The Clark Unveils Its Latest Piece Of Art — Its Own Campus
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Have you been to The Clark lately?
Unless you work there, the chances are the answer is “no.” It’s been closed since March, and the heart of its famed collection of French Impressionist paintings — including those luscious Renoirs everyone loves to stop by and say hello to from time to time — have been out of town since 2011, circling the globe on a tour that reached from Shanghai to Fort Worth, Texas. (Of course, special exhibitions like last summer’s orgy of newly acquired Winslow Homer paintings, and that rock-star-popular show featuring Picasso and Degas, have provided plenty of cause to visit in the meantime.)
Now the wait is over. The Clark is back, and back with gusto. On Friday, July 4, this jewel of Williamstown will open the doors on the long-anticipated expansion, including an uber-elegant new building designed by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The sleek, airy, light-filled building houses additional space for special exhibitions, and a full-service visitor center including a café and museum shop.
It’s hard to believe the spot where it stands used to be the site of a parking lot and facilities plant, tucked away behind the buildings that were accessed by the public.
“This is a place where we had our chillers and cooling tower and all kinds of grounds equipment,” associate director Tom Loughman says on a walk-through of the grounds that attracted upwards of 100 members of the press. He stands in the light-filled ground floor of the new building, in a room with windows on all four sides and a view of the stunning new water feature —three terraced pools — right outside. “It was a not-nice place. But it had been determined by the master plan as being the key, the fulcrum spot on the campus.”
The the new terrace offers a look at another masterpiece—the view. Photo: Jeremy D. Goodwin
That is fully borne out by the new building and the way it ties together the rest of the grounds. A new access road leads arriving visitors to the long, low-set building, with most of the new features hidden from view. Then a short passage opens dramatically onto a spacious terrace lined with young willow trees, and a view of the pools. From there, one can see The Clark’s two older buildings nearby, and a grand view of a hill patrolled by the odd cow. Back inside the new building, a long, glass-enclosed passageway leads to the main building, offering expansive views on all sides.
Though the addition of hiking trails and the Lunder Center at Stone Hill in 2009 extended The Clark’s footprint into the surrounding woodland, visitors who limited themselves to the main collection or the research library had little chance to interact with the gorgeous surroundings. No longer.
“Our charge was to understand the land well and understand how they should curate it, the same way they curate their art,” landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand says before the press tour, standing on the edge of the largest pool under a brilliant afternoon sky. “A lot of people come here from big, municipal areas, and there isn’t any doubt that when you get a ticket and walk through the door, you have a chance to participate in a landscape that people who live here in the Berkshires walk through every day.”
Maddy Burke-Vigeland, the executive architect, points to the co-mingling of indoor and outdoor experiences in the new setup. Though the art on view is still the star attraction, it now lives in more of a communion with its pastoral surroundings. “Obviously, this can only make The Clark even more of a mecca for not only the art world, but the architecture world and people interested in nature, because this backdrop is so spectacular,” she says.
As for the still-sumptuous building that houses the permanent collection, it’s received a major tune-up — new climate control system, lighting fixtures, a reconsidered floor plan, and even some carefully selected paint colors on the wall will all combine for an experience that is enhanced subtly but distinctly.
“This is a museum that is very well-loved by a lot of people, and we wanted them to return to see the collection and be happy with the presentation, knowing that certain groupings of paintings would remain the same,” says senior curator Richard Rand, who seems fully enamored of the changes. (Put on the spot, he’s even able to identify one new wall color as pavilion blue.) “Many people won’t really know what has changed, but they’ll feel it. They’ll feel it in their bones.”
Courtesy of The Clark
The new exhibition spaces are getting broken in with a collection of Chinese Bronze Age sculpture, on loan from the Shanghai Museum, where The Clark’s traveling Impressionist road show attracted half a million visitors. In August, the new building will strut its stuff with an exhibition featuring some of the vibrant modern art The Clark didn’t have the facilities for before. “Make It New: Abstract Painting From the National Gallery of Art, 1950-1975,” a new exhibition curated in partnership between the two institutions, opens on August 2.
Museum director Michael Conforti has steered the project through various turns in the road, ever since the current master plan was unveiled in 2001. (The re-design concept has been on the table since two years later.)
He sums up the changes with elegant precision — in spirit, not unlike the distinctive touch of architect Ando.
“It’ll be an art-in-nature experience,” Conforti says, “unparalleled with any museum that I can think of.”
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South Street in Williamstown
Re-opening July 4 at 1 p.m.