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ATL Business Chronicle

John Portman art exhibit opening in China

By Maria Saporta
Friday, July 23, 2010

First Atlanta. Then the world.

That describes the career of John Portman, the Atlanta native who is an internationally renowned architect and developer.

It also describes the exhibit — “John Portman: Art & Architecture” — on display at the High Museum of Art from Oct. 17, 2009, to April 18 this year.

On July 24, the exhibit will have its grand opening at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. The exhibit, which provides a wide retrospective on Portman’s architectural projects and artistic endeavors, will be on display in Shanghai through Sept. 19.

“The High exhibit was very successful, and there was a lot of interest generated in it, and they talked about the possibility of it becoming a traveling exhibit,” Portman said in a recent interview. “Out of that came the opportunity in Shanghai. That’s where we started in Asia, so it was a natural.”

Thirty years ago, Portman began designing and building projects in Shanghai, his entry point into Asia where he has constructed numerous projects in several cities. Plus, he has several other developments in the planning stages or under construction.

“It’s just an incredible opportunity not only for us, but for the High Museum and the city of Atlanta. I think everybody wins on this one,” Portman said. “We have a lot of projects there so that won’t hurt us. It really couldn’t be in a better place.”

The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center is themed “City, Citizens, Environment and Development,” and showcases the past, present and future of Shanghai. The museum opened in 2000 and has been dedicated to international exchanges in art and architecture.

Shanghai also is hosting the World Expo, which has the theme: “Better City, Better Life” at the same time it will host the Portman exhibit.

“Shanghai is sort of the center of the business universe at the moment,” Portman said. “It’s also a great opportunity for Atlanta to be able to be showcased there.”

Portman first became interested in China in 1979 when he met Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who visited Atlanta and then-Gov. George Busbee as part of a trip to the United States.

He then went to China as part of a delegation of business leaders from Georgia.

“That was a revelation,” Portman said, adding that it led to the firm being the “first to do a modern multi-use development in Shanghai.”

The “Portman: Art & Architecture” exhibit highlights nine of the Atlanta firm’s projects in Asia, including Marina Square, Singapore, 1987; Tomorrow Square, Shanghai, China, 2003; and Beijing Yintai Centre, Beijing, China, 2008.

The exhibit displays the plans and models for current projects including Jin Hongqiao International Center, Shanghai, China; Zhe Jiang Fortune Finance Center, Hangzhou, China; Wenzhou Zhixin Plaza, Wenzhou, China; Songdo Landmark City Master Plan, Incheon, Korea, and Incheon 151 Tower at Songdo Landmark City, Incheon, Korea; and Portman House, Jian Ye Li, Shanghai, China.

The show also features Portman’s architectural projects in Atlanta (where he has redeveloped 14 blocks downtown), Sea Island, San Francisco, Detroit and Los Angeles. On the artistic side, the exhibit includes Portman’s furniture, sculpture and paintings.

In the interview, Portman said he has really enjoyed the partnership with the High Museum, and he described High director Michael Shapiro as “terrific.”

“They’re open-minded, and they’re full of ideas,” said Portman, who is taking a delegation of about eight people from his office to be part of the grand opening in Shanghai.

After that show ends, Portman said there are tentative plans to move it to other cities.

“We hope that while we’re in Asia, we can go to Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul,” Portman said. “There are discussions under way for the exhibition to go to those cities.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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