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Fall A&E Guide 

Build it and they will come

Georgia Aquarium and High Museum expansion make debuts this fall

If Atlanta is a pond -- and in the summer humidity, it can certainly feel like one -- the Georgia Aquarium will become one of the biggest fish in it come Nov. 23.

Touted as the largest aquarium in the United States (until some other upstart city breaks our record), the $200 million marine life habitat promises to entice tourists like blood draws sharks.

But the Georgia Aquarium is only one of several high-profile attractions hoping to make a splash this fall. The High Museum will reintroduce itself Nov. 12 after an extensive $130 million face lift. The highly regarded Richard Meier building has been supplemented by a dramatic new expansion courtesy of high-profile Italian architect Renzo Piano.

In anticipation of things to come, the CL brain trust has created a comparison chart of the two new venues.

OPENING DATE

Georgia Aquarium: Nov. 23

High Museum: Nov. 12

REASON FOR GOING

Georgia Aquarium: Experience the rapture of the deep and drink in the majesty of nature's diverse bounty -- without getting your feet wet or going too far from snack food.

High Museum: Museum expansions are the Botox of the art scene and big news for cities who want to showcase great architecture and attract more visitors. The unveiling of the High expansion should be for the Southeast what the 2004 debut of the revamped Museum of Modern Art was to the nation. You'd be a fool to miss it.

STAR ATTRACTIONS

Georgia Aquarium: Top billing goes to Ralph and Norton, the only whale sharks exhibited in North America and the largest-growing variety of fish in the oceans. Also on the marquee will be a pair of Beluga whales and the aquarium's octopi population.

High Museum: The big-ticket inaugural exhibition is a comprehensive retrospective of one of American realist painting's most perennially popular artists. Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic runs Nov. 12-Feb. 26 and is curated by Anne Knutson, whose revival of another beloved artist -- Norman Rockwell -- for the High was the talk of the art crowd back in 1999.

ARCHITECT

Georgia Aquarium: Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates, a locally based international firm.

High Museum: Italian architect Renzo Piano is a past winner of the Oscar of the architecture world, the Pritzker Prize. His current expansion projects include the L.A. County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the New York Times building.

QUANTITY OF STUFF

Georgia Aquarium: 100,000-120,000 fish and other aquatic creatures from more than 500 species.

High Museum: The High has acquired some 6,513 works of art since it opened in 1983. Twenty-five percent of that work will be on view for the first time when the expansion opens.

FUNNY NAMES

Georgia Aquarium: Batfish, sea goblins, bow-mouth guitarfish.

High Museum: Impressionism, surrealism, Cubism, abstract-expressionism. Art history is a real giggle.

SIZE MATTERS

Georgia Aquarium: At just under 500,000 square feet, it'll be the largest aquarium in the United States.

High Museum: Where size matters, the High is projected to leap out of the Siberia of its current ranking into the top 20 playas' circle. Its expansion will bring its total footprint to 312,000 square feet.

PRICE TAG

Georgia Aquarium: Funded by a $200 million gift from fish fancier and deep-pocketed Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.

High Museum: $130 million, with a big chunk of change provided by home developer John Wieland and his wife, Sue.

ESTIMATED ATTENDANCE

Georgia Aquarium: 2.4 million visitors in first year.

High Museum: Predicted increase from 350,000 annually to 500,000 annually.

ADMISSION

Georgia Aquarium: TBA

High Museum: Free admission opening weekend, Nov. 12-13. General admission, $15; senior citizens and college students with ID, $12; children ages 6-17, $10; children under age 6 and High members, free.

EDUCATIONAL COMPONENT

Georgia Aquarium: Up to 25 percent of public floor space is dedicated to educational programs.

High Museum: Some would argue that museums are, by definition, educational. But the High is also devoting 21,120 square feet to education areas, including a new Family Learning Gallery in the Stent Family Wing. Its inaugural installation, "Inside Art," will allow children to build their own mini-museums using custom blocks borrowing from Piano and Meier techniques. Audio tours (included in the admission price) will feature both adult and child-oriented versions.

FOOD & DRINK

Georgia Aquarium: The 250-seat Café Aquaria will feature several café stations, including Naples Pizza and Pasta; Buckhead Bread, serving soups and sandwiches; Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream; and the Grill, serving burgers and such. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's catering operation will provide the fare for special events.

High Museum: Table 1280 restaurant and Tapas Lounge opens Sept. 13. Former MidCity Cuisine and Mumbo Jumbo chef Shaun Doty is the executive chef, and the New York-based Restaurant Associates chain will manage the eatery. Restaurant Associates, which also operates at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also debuts the ACA Café (opens Aug. 22), the High Café and the High Coffee Cart (both open Nov. 12).

LOCATION

Georgia Aquarium: 225 Baker St., downtown.

High Museum: 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown.

HOURS

Georgia Aquarium: TBA

High Museum: Tues.-Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., noon--5 p.m.

WEB SITE

Georgia Aquarium: www.georgiaaquarium.org

High Museum: www.high.org

PARKING COST

Georgia Aquarium: TBA

High Museum: A Woodruff Arts Center press release wants you to know that "construction for the garage was not easy," requiring them to drill and blast through solid granite. Show your support for the WAC's efforts by shelling over 11 clams for evening parking. Daytime pricing will be charged by the half-hour. Parking is free on opening day. MARTA also has a stop at the WAC complex.

LIVING EXHIBITS?

Georgia Aquarium: Yes.

High Museum: Not technically, but they're immortal.

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