Forget the pins, forget the hats, forget the $3 hot dogs - the real Olympic deal is the "Rings."
No, not those rings . . . exactly. The "Rings" exhibit at the Woodruff Arts Center, subtitled "Five Passions in World Art," is the must-see event of the Olympic Arts Festival.Filling up two floors of the arts center's High Museum, the display is an amazing collection of masterpieces by a variety of famous artists - paintings, sculptures and other artifacts that most people have only seen in art books, mixed with lesser-known and modern works.
The idea is to represent the five, interlocked rings of the Olympic logo, each being given a representative emotion - love, anguish, awe, triumph and joy, in that order. And the 125 selections gathered here, which span 75 centuries and are on loan from museums all over the world, have been put on display so as to elicit specific emotional responses.
" `The Rings' is the biggest exhibit attended," said Raye Varney, Cultural Olympiad venue manager. The show cost $3.2 million to bring in and is the highest-profile event of the Arts Festival, with several hundred thousand dollars having been spent in promotion.
It has also been the most sharply criticized show in the festival, with critics complaining that so many major art works are mixed with too wide an array of less important pieces.
But those who attend - estimated at some 1,500 per day - don't seem to mind. Most people are happy just to get an opportunity to see, for example, Rodin's life-size marble sculpture "The Kiss," the first item encountered upon entering the exhibition. "The Kiss" begins "Love," the first phase, which is followed by "Anguish," where we see, among others, Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and Rembrandt's "The Denial of Saint Peter."
Then comes "Awe," with El Greco's "The Resurrection of Christ"; "Triumph," featuring Rubens' "Arch of Ferdinand"; and finally, "Joy," with a pair of van Gogh efforts, "Wheatfield With Cypress" and "Flowering Peach Tree." Each emotion is represented by approximately 20 art objects.
Using van Gogh to represent "Joy" seems a brave choice, since the general public probably associates him more with "Anguish." But that's how this exhibit works - some parts play to our expectations, others play against them.
Then there is perhaps the most controversial choice - Bill Viola's "Heaven and Earth," a unique display with stripped-down video monitors, placed one over the other so that moving images of the artist's newborn second son and his aging, dying mother face each other. As one hovers over the other, there is a juxtaposition of the beginning and end of life.
Strolling through the exhibit, some patrons wore headphones, listening to audio tapes that explained the meaning and history of each piece, while others chose to simply bask in the works themselves, at their own pace, engulfed by relative silence.
Front to back, "Rings" may or may not be a roaring artistic success. But for pure emotional impact, there are few art exhibits that can compete.