In a tribute posted to its website Monday, the High Museum of Art in Midtown announced the death of former Director Gudmund Vigtel.
Vigtel, 87, who died Saturday, served as the High’s director from 1963 to 1991. Though his official title was director, in the early years he handled everything from curatorial duties and development to volunteers and local artist encouragement.
Vigtel took the helm at the High in the year following the tragic 1962 plane crash at Paris’ Orly airport, which took the lives of 122 Atlantaarts patrons. Despite these challenging circumstances, during his tenure he tripled the size of the museum’s permanent collection, established more than $15 million of endowment and trust funds, and increased its operating budget from $60,000 to $9 million. He also grew the High’s staff from four to 150. Most notably, it was Vigtel who spearheaded the campaign that resulted in the construction of the High’s iconic Richard Meier-designed building (the Stent Wing), which opened to the public in 1983.
The museum as we know it today would not exist without the dedication and vision of Gudmund Vigtel. He was an artist, a scholar, a leader and a true friend of the arts. The High and theAtlantacommunity are forever indebted to him for the way he transformed both the museum and the city.
The High’s current and former leaders paid tribute to Vigtel, known simply as Vig.
“Gudmund Vigtel built the High Museum of Art with integrity and with strength of character over nearly three decades,” current Director Michael E. Shapiro said in a statement. “He led the High from a period of austere and challenging circumstances following theOrlytragedy, through the triumphant opening of the Richard Meier designed building in October of 1983. In so doing, he putAtlantaand the High on the world cultural map for the first time. TheHighMuseumwould not be what it is today without Vig. This is a tremendous loss for the High and for theAtlantaarts community.”
Terry Stent, the High’s former board chair, added, “The High Museum as we know it today was built on his very broad shoulders. Vig was a very powerful force for art inAtlantaand his 28 year tenure speaks to the fact that he had so much support from the community.”
Meier said, “As director of the High Museum of Art, Gudmund Vigtel led the museum out of a shadow and into the sunlight. It was a great pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to work with him.”
High board member John Wieland added, “There are plenty of museum directors across the country who do an outstanding job of running their museums. There are not many museum directors who actually create a museum, as Vig did. While he started with a little bit to work with, what he left toAtlantahas made a lasting difference and a lasting impression. He will always be one of the heroes of the art world inAtlanta.”
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Gudmund Vigtel to Hospice Atlanta or to the High Museum of Art’s Gudmund Vigtel Memorial Fund at:
The Gudmund Vigtel Memorial Fund
c/o The Office of the Director
High Museumof Art
1280 Peachtree St. NE
Atlanta, Ga. 30309