WHAT: "Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic" at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta
WHEN: Through Feb. 26
HOW MUCH: $15
WHY GO: This new retrospective of one of the 20th century's most popular (and scrutinized) painters is no "Best of Andrew Wyeth" show. "That's been done to death," according to museum curator Anne Classen Knutson.
Rather, "Memory and Magic," consisting of 100 tempera paintings, watercolors and drawings, reveals how the artist's use of the same objects -- which have appeared in his works since the late 1930s -- have evolved as metaphors and symbols. Over the course of Wyeth's 70-year career, his thematic categories of natural things, vessels and thresholds have become more visually distinct, while their meanings have become more elusive.
The 88-year-old Pennsylvania artist has increasingly turned to his own life for subject matter; more recent paintings illustrate his frustration with old age and physical decline. The final section of the exhibit features paintings of Betsy James Wyeth, his wife and muse. Many of the objects that appear as symbols in Wyeth's paintings belonged to Betsy, and she's played a significant role in his imagery.
A bonus: The exhibition inaugurates the High's 103,000-square-foot, $44.5 million John F. and Susan W. Wieland Pavilion, the largest of the museum's three new buildings designed by lauded architect Renzo Piano. The pavilion, which also houses some of the museum's permanent collection, boasts an expansive lobby with an outdoor terrace and a retail shop and coffee bar.
DON'T MISS . . . "The Quaker," a tempera-on-panel painting depicting two coats hanging on a mantelpiece in a room with one window. Knutson notes that the coattails seem to move slightly, suggesting ghostly figures engaged in conversation. "Dr. Syn" is an eerie but amusing self-portrait of Wyeth depicted as a skeletal figure sitting in an elegant chair dressed like an old-fashioned sea captain. Knutson said younger patrons might get a kick out of the painting because of its spooky nature.
EXTRAS: Knutson delivers a lecture Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. on the conception and creation of the exhibit. The lecture is free, but seating is limited (call 404-733-5000 to reserve a spot) . . . On Jan. 12, the museum begins a weekly evening lecture series that explores Wyeth's career. First up is Wyeth conservator and one-time model Joyce Hill Stoner, who talks about her collaborations with the artist. All lectures are at 7 p.m. in the Rich Theatre ($12; call 404-733-5000) . . . On select Fridays at 5 p.m., live jazz fills the Robinson Atrium. The Savannah-based Ben Tucker Quartet performs Dec. 16, and the Philip Harper Quartet jams on Jan. 20.
EATS: The museum's new Table 1280 Restaurant and Tapas Lounge in the Woodruff Arts Center (1280 Peachtree St., 404-897-1280) offers two separate Atlanta dining experiences without having to leave the building. The restaurant, which fuses American and Mediterranean styles, includes such items as escargot with mashed potatoes and soft-poached egg (entrees start at $18). Plates at the tapas lounge run from $5 to $9; dishes include grilled octopus salad with black chickpeas and baked goat cheese with roasted tomatoes.
After viewing the work of the U.S. painter, museum visitors may be in the mood for a quintessential American meal. Taurus (1745 Peachtree St., 404-214-0641) is a sceney chophouse where the Delmonico steak comes recommended by local foodies (entrees from $15). For Latin flavor, Tierra (1425 Piedmont Ave. NE, 404-874-5951) is an Atlanta hot spot offering up flounder coated in Chilean beer batter and beef tenderloin with jalapeno onion cream (entrees in the $20 range).
SLEEPS: You can't slumber much closer to the museum than at the Four Seasons (75 14th St., 404-881-9898, www.fourseasons.com/atlanta) right across the street. The luxury hotel offers the "High Experience," which includes lodging, valet parking, breakfast for two and two tickets to the exhibit. The package starts at $305 a night double.
The Residence Inn Midtown (1365 Peachtree St., 404-745-1000, www.marriott.com) is two blocks from the museum and offers a $129 package deal that include two tickets, free parking and breakfast. Also nearby is the Atlanta Marriott Suites (35 14th St., 404-876-8888, www.marriott.com); two tickets, parking and breakfast is $149.
INFO: The High Museum of Art is at 1280 Peachtree St. NE. Details: 404-733-4400, www.high.org.
-- John Maynard