The Centennial Games in Atlanta that open next week usher in an array of superlatives: the largest number of athletes participating in an Olympics (10,000), the most countries represented (197), and the biggest projected TV audience (about two-thirds of the world's population).
They also boast one of the most extensive arts programs ever undertaken. The Cultural Olympiad - the showcasing of art and culture - is a tradition of the Games. But Atlanta's effort has been under way for several years and involved groups and communities throughout the South.
For those attending the Games, getting tickets for many events in this rich festival will be much easier than nabbing seats for the opening ceremonies, gymnastics, or other much-anticipated sports.
Atlanta's mission in this endeavor is twofold: to present a variety of international artists and highlight the diverse culture and art of the South.
While other host cities have focused their arts programs over a few months or a year, Atlanta's began four years ago.
Since then, it has presented such programs as "100 Years of World Cinema," a showing of 100 landmark films; plays by commnity theater groups in the region; and a gathering of eight Nobel laureates in literature brought to Atlanta for readings and discussions.
Atlanta's Cultural Olympiad is also different in that it is being done in collaboration with local arts institutions. "Usually people truck [the art] in and then leave," says Annette Carlozzi, visual arts producer. "This will build the strength of Atlanta's arts community for the long term."
The Cultural Olympiad culminates in the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, which began in June and runs through August. It includes everything from a full-length ballet by Netherlands Dance Theater to the world premiere of Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's "A Chef's Fable."
A large part of the festival centers around visual arts. Following are some of the highlights.
Rings: Five Passions in World Art
High Museum of Art
Through Sept. 29.
'Rings: Five Passions in World Art' is one of the Olympic Arts Festival's largest events and also the most ambitious in scope.
The exhibit uses the Olympic symbol of five interlocked rings as a theme to explore five emotions that bind humankind and the power of art to communicate these emotions - love, anguish, awe, triumph, and joy.
The exhibit casts its net wide: 125 paintings, sculptures, and other works of art spanning 75 centuries and representing every principal region of the world are shown.
Curator J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, traveled the globe during the past several years to wheedle works of arts from museums, governments, and private collectors. The result is a stunning array of treasures.
The exhibit begins with the emotion love, and various versions of a kiss, including Auguste Rodin's 'The Kiss,' a life-size marble sculpture of a man and woman in a passionate embrace.
The relationship between the two sexes, maternal love, and love between two friends are all depicted in this first section, which includes paintings by Mary Cassatt, Titian, and ancient works from the Far East and Africa.
The emotion anguish follows with an equally compelling selection of pieces, ranging from Edvard Munch's 'Scream' - a pulsating swirl of colors surrounding a desperate figure with his hands to his head - to Magdalena Abakanowicz's 'The Cage,' a cast of a human back sitting hunched in a wooden structure.
Magnificent landscape paintings, spirit figures, and sculptures of Buddha round out the section of awe. A mahogany head of Martin Luther King Jr.; a 17th-century oil depicting the triumph of Neptune as the deity of the sea; and the 'Wellington Shield,' a stunning circle of gilded silver with intricately carved images celebrating the Duke of Wellington's military battles, are part of triumph. Renoir, O'Keeffe, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet can be found in the joy segment.
Picturing the South: 1860 to the Present
High Museum of Art, Folk Art, and Photography Galleries, Georgia-Pacific Center
Through Sept. 14.
Perhaps more than any other region in the United States, the South conjures up conflicting images. It is mysterious yet homey, old yet modern, and beautiful but marred with a violent past.
Capturing the many faces of a region that stretches from Florida to Texas to Kentucky is a collection of 200 black-and-white and color photographs. 'Picturing the South: 1860 to the Present' incorporates such photographers as Margaret Bourke-White, George Barnard, and Walker Evans.
The exhibition, which is arranged chronologically, addresses themes that express the region's identity.
Early works, for instance, focus on the Civil War and its aftermath. Many are haunting images: stark, barren landscapes where battles took place, slaves staring with empty eyes, and laborers working in fields.
The 20th century illustrates the South and its transition from a mainly agrarian economy to a modern industrial one.
Dorothea Lange shows families of evicted sharecroppers waiting along the road with all their belongings during the 1930s. William Christenberry's more contemporary color photographs reveal a disappearing rural culture in contemporary Alabama. Harry Callahan depicts modern-day Atlanta in sleek city images.
Religion, a large part of southern psyche, is also explored in pictures. Most captivating is a series by Melissa Springer on serpent handlers.
Race, one of the greatest issues that has shaped the South, is found in many of the photos, including a tintype of a Ku Klux Klansman from 1869; police blasting Birmingham, Ala., demonstrators with water from firehoses; and student sit-ins.
High Museum curator Ellen Dugan selected the photographs from 60 collections, ranging from family albums to the Library of Congress.
'The show is not meant to be a definitive history of the South but a narrative that is based on history and tied to memory,' Ms. Dugan says. 'It represents the most important issues that have shaped American history.'
Souls Grown Deep: African-American Vernacular Art of the South
Michael C. Carlos Museum at City Hall East, Emory University
Through Nov. 3.
'You might think of the work here as the visual equivalent of the blues,' says Robert Hobbs, curator of 'Souls Grown Deep: African-American Vernacular Art of the South.'
Behind him is room after room of 500 works by 30 contemporary self-taught black artists. Like the blues, an African-American musical form, these artists use their art as a way to deal with and convey past experiences and present concerns.
The major historical and cultural changes most chronicled are the civil rights movement, the black power movement, pan-africanism, and the mass migrations of blacks from rural to urban areas.
The exhibit is arranged as a series of one-person shows and explores several themes central to this folk art: yard shows, root sculpture, past memories, and religion.
Take yard shows, for example. Some blacks decorate their homes with flowers, dolls, bottles, and other objects. It's a phenomenon that has its roots in slavery when blacks were forced to make do with items discarded by slavemasters. Today, the 'yard show' continues, combining plants with objects.
Lonnie Holley takes this concept to the extreme with 'If You Really Knew,' a darkened room of junk - tires, shoes, dolls - that drapes and hangs from other objects. Holley, who began gathering materials in 1979, is memorializing the past, Mr. Hobbs explains. The castoffs represent the way African-Americans have been treated.
Other works are more direct. Alabaman Jimmie Sudduth uses his fingers as paintbrushes, and organic materials such as clay, coffee grounds, and turnip greens to portray animals and houses.
This kind of vernacular African-American art exists throughout the US, but it is particularly rich in the South because of significant changes - from civil rights to socioeconomic - the region has experienced, Hobbs says.
OTHER EXHIBITS WORTH VIEWING BETWEEN OLYMPIC EVENTS
The American South: Past, Present and Future
Atlanta History Center
Through June 15, 1997.
Southern history and culture explored with photos, text, and artifacts. Includes slave shackles, an early Ku Klux Klan mask, a cotton bale, and a voting machine.
Georgia Museum of Art
University of Georgia in Athens
Through Sept. 1.
Idyllic landscape paintings by American artists working in California from 1895 to 1940.
An Olympic Portfolio: Photographs by Annie Leibovitz
Centennial Olympic Park
July 12 to Aug. 4.
Images of America's finest athletes as they prepare for and participate in the 1996 Games.
Out of Bounds:
New Work by Eight Southeastern Artists
Nexus Contemporary Art Center
Through Aug. 24.
Eight contemporary artists, chosen from a field of 800, showcase new works.
Roland L. Freeman's 'I've Known Rivers'
Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture
Through Sept. 30.
A collection of works by one of this country's preeminent photographers exploring three decades of African-American culture.
Thornton Dial: Remembering the Road
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University
Through Oct. 15.
A companion exhibit to "Souls Grown Deep," featuring a comprehensive look at the recent work of this self-taught Southern artist.