The Clark Art Institute, Transformed

Clark Center from Reflecting Pool

Clark Center from Reflecting Pool

by Seth Rogovoy

(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., June 30, 2014) – Forget everything you ever knew and thought of about visiting the Clark Art Institute, because the experience has utterly and totally been changed.

And this is a good thing.

Everything is different – well, except maybe for the permanent collection. You know – the Renoirs, Homers, Sargents and Monets. The paintings. That sort of thing. They’re still there. And the Renoir room, as it is known colloquially, is pretty much the same, other than for a nice new coat of paint. In fact, most of the gallery space in the original, classically styled Clark mansion remains the way it was, with much of the same artwork, just cleaned up and lit differently.

But a visitor’s relationship to the museum has been transformed by the expansion of the campus, with a new entrance, a new visitor’s center, and new outdoor features – primarily reflecting pools and stone walls — that reorient you when you arrive and foster a stunning and compelling give-and-take among the buildings, the artwork, and the surrounding landscape.

Detail of ClarkCenter and Museum Building 5The new Clark Art Institute opens to the public, very patriotically, on Friday, July 4, 2014, and as such, declares its independence from the old Clark – especially from the unfortunately Brutalist former “new building” – at some point renamed the Manton Research Center, but you know it as that monstrosity that looks like an example of bad college campus architecture from the 1970s (which is basically what it is).

With the original Clark home – the white building – now given a centralized place sitting between Manton and the new, Tadao Ando-designed, appropriately low-profile visitor center – which contains a multitude of new gallery space for temporary exhibitions, as well as a café and museum store – and with the entire campus now facing out upon the gorgeous view of Stone Hill, not entirely unlike a scene you might find portrayed in a painting, say, by George Inness – whose work is now given privilege of place shortly after you enter the museum proper – brutal Manton now happily recedes into the trees surrounding it, returning to its proper function as an office building and world-class art library and research center. (It will, additionally, offer a public reading room, scheduled to open later this year, and which may soften my dislike for Manton, since I kind of like reading, what with being a writer and all that. Reading is a good thing. More people should do it. Particularly if people are going to build spaces devoted to it. Let’s hear it for reading rooms.)

This new Clark is “the most significant building project in the Clark’s history,” and it “enhances sustainability, expands gallery space, and improves the visitor experience through dynamic new architecture and renovations by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, Selldorf Architects, Reed Hilderbrand, and Gensler.” Additionally, three special summer exhibitions and a complete reinstallation of the renowned permanent collection herald the campus reopening.

The multi-phase project, nearly fifteen years in the making, reconceptualizes the visitor experience of the Clark and represents the most significant transformation of the Institute since it opened in 1955. Combining the talents of four noted architects, the project unites the new Clark Center — designed by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, Osaka, Japan — with the renovated Museum Building and Manton Research Center designed by Selldorf Architects, New York.

Reflecting Pool from Clark Center with view of Stone Hill

Reflecting Pool from Clark Center with partial view of Stone Hill

These buildings surround a new one-acre reflecting pool, which is the highlight of a dramatic rethinking of the Clark’s landscape of trails and walkways reconceived by Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, Cambridge, Massachusetts. And indeed, it is truly transformative, and induces a state of trancelike reflection – as well as a bit of “uh-oh,” making one wonder who is going to be the first person to tumble into the pool, or to take off his shoes and cool off in the waters that are sustainably gathered, filtered, collected, and then redeposited into the watershed.

Gensler, New York is the Executive Architect and sustainability consultant for all phases of the project.

The expansion project adds more than 13,000 square feet of gallery space to the campus, supporting the Clark’s expanded collection and exhibition programs, and establishing the Institute as a leader in best practices for sustainability and energy efficiency.

Once upon, the Clark was a sleepy old place where a few graduate students hung out to get a master’s degree in art history from Williams College, where a few curators dusted off the paintings and silverware, and where a visitor couldn’t get much more than a drink of water from an old-fashioned fountain; forget a cup of coffee or something to eat. The shop was a few postcards and a handful of art books, and that was pretty much it.

That worked for a few decades, and it was in keeping with the Clarks’ original mission, and the place was about stewardship of the collection, with some scholarship on the side.

Then Michael Conforti came to town, and everything changed. And this was a good thing.

Clark Campus from Stone Hill

Clark Campus from Stone Hill

The Clark now has a look and feel suitable both to its place in the art world and to its surrounding landscape – immediately facing Stone Hill, but also more generally suited to its home in the Berkshires, its reasons for being located here, and for what it represents – what its art represents – as a kind of modern Temple devoted to the worship, creation, and appreciation of beauty, not for its own sake, but for the sake of ennobling what it means to be human. In other words, the institute as a work of art, a reflection of the art – or a reflection of art itself.

In any case, you now feel like you are somewhere — a place to which a lot of thought and planning has been given.

“The project advances the Clark’s dual mission as both an art museum and a center for research and higher education,” said Director Michael Conforti. “Since developing our master plan nearly fifteen years ago, we have worked diligently to connect our program and support spaces with our extraordinary landscape, all with the goal of best serving the thousands of people who come from all over the world to visit the Clark each year. What now looks simple and so logical, has been achieved through a complex and environmentally sensitive design and construction program that unites many disparate parts.”

To see him and to talk to him, Conforti might not seem like the guy who was going to get you to climb up Stone Hill, whether on a nature hike or on a brief walk to a (gasp!) new Andao-designed gallery he placed halfway up to the top of the hill in the woods. But build he did – the Stone Hill Center, now renamed Lunder Center at Stone Hill. He also built upon numerous Clark traditions – such as Robert Sterling Clark’s connection to China as a trailblazing explorer, and presenting exhibitions of Chinese architectural finds, such as the current show, Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum – and made some up out of whole cloth – such as the upcoming exhibit of modern art from the collection of the National Gallery, Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950–1975, opening August 2.


Elements of this phase of the new Clark’s project include:


  •  The new 42,600-square-foot Clark Center designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, which includes more than 11,000 square feet of gallery space for special exhibitions; a multi-purpose pavilion for conferences, lectures, and events; new dining, retail, and family spaces; and an all-glass Museum Pavilion that creates a new entrance to the original Museum Building.
  • The expansion and renovation by Selldorf Architects of the original Museum Building, which includes the addition of more than 2,200 square feet of gallery space; a careful restoration of the existing galleries; installation of new lighting and environmental controls; and the re-establishment of a west-to-east orientation for the visitor.
  • A sweeping redesign of the Clark’s grounds by Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, which underscores the Clark’s commitment to environmental stewardship of its grounds by significantly enhancing sustainability initiatives across the campus and integrating green design practices. Key elements of the program include creation of a three-tiered reflecting pool that is both the focal point of the redesigned campus and part of an advanced water management system that reduces the Clark’s forecasted potable water consumption by approximately 50 percent, or one million gallons annually; upgrades to and expansion of walking trails; green roof systems; planting of 350 new trees on the site; and creation of a new entry drive and parking areas that feature water permeable surfaces feeding into a rainwater collection system.

“The addition of special exhibition and education space in the new Clark Center, coupled with the renovation of our Museum Building, enables us to present our collection and expand the provocative exhibitions for which the Clark is noted in new and interesting ways,” Conforti said.

“On the campus, Reed Hilderbrand’s work has brought renewed ecological health to the land, helping to improve our significant natural assets. From the earliest days of our planning process, Gensler has integrated the work of all the design teams, guided us on sustainability, and provided the overarching framework that such an ambitious undertaking requires.”

Renovation of the Manton Research Center, home to the Clark’s library and Research and Academic Program, is ongoing, following a recent decision to expand the scope of work on the project to include installation of a new architectural skylight system over the central lobby area. The building’s former lobby will be converted into a new public reading room, which will be significantly enhanced by the natural light that will permeate the space through the new skylight. The renovation is designed by Selldorf Architects.


The Clark’s library and auditorium, both located in the Manton Research Center, will remain operational throughout the summer. The auditorium will be the site of a variety of events, lectures, and performances throughout the summer. Both the east and west entrances will be accessible. A bookstore will be open in the east lobby, offering a wide range of Clark publications, art books, and reference materials. The new spaces in the Manton Research Center, including the Manton Study Center for Works on Paper and adjacent gallery space, will become available on a rolling schedule beginning later in 2014.
The Clark’s expansion project, which began with the 2001 announcement of a master plan study by Cooper, Robertson & Partners that reconceived the campus, also includes:


  •  Construction of the Lunder Center at Stone Hill (formerly known as Stone Hill Center) housing galleries that allow the Clark to present smaller exhibitions including non-Western and twentieth-century art; the Hunter Studio art classroom space; a seasonal terrace cafe?; and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center’s facilities (completed in 2008)
  • Creation of more than two miles of public walking trails traversing the Clark’s hillsides and woodland areas and connecting the main campus to the Lunder Center site
  • Demolition of the Clark’s former physical plant building to make way for the new Clark Center and reflecting pool
  • Construction of new below-grade support facilities, including a loading dock; physical plant; art transit, and storage spaces; and a food service kitchen (completed in 2011)
  • Upgrades to all major utilities and installation of a new series of geothermal wells across the campus
  • Planting of a total of 1,000 trees on the Clark’s campus (including 350 in the final phase)

In its inaugural summer, the Clark is presenting several special exhibitions: Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum and Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith, both opening on July 4, and Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950–1975, opening August 2.
The Clark’s noted permanent collection has been reinstalled in the Museum Building, which features new gallery spaces for American paintings and European sculpture and decorative arts. Seventy-three of the Clark’s French paintings recently returned to the Institute following a three-year international tour to eleven cities that drew more than 2.6 million visitors.
“We are very excited to welcome the public this summer. The Berkshires is a region noted internationally for its great beauty and its extraordinary cultural venues,” Conforti said. “The Clark will be a place of discovery — inside and out — that visitors will want to explore. With the many other museums in the region and the wonderful performances at Tanglewood and the Berkshires’ many theater and dance companies, we are ready to engage the world in discovering one of the nation’s most exceptional artistic and cultural communities.”
The Clark’s opening celebration culminates Williamstown’s traditional July 4 festivities. At 1 pm, an opening ceremony will be held at the new main entrance to the Clark Center, after which the doors will open to the public. Galleries are open until 7 pm on July 4 and admission is free. A free outdoor concert at 7:30 pm, followed by a fireworks presentation at dusk, will highlight the Independence Day celebrations on the campus.
Building Project
Clark Center

The Ando-designed stone, concrete, and glass Clark Center, situated northwest of the Museum Building, is the new centerpiece of the Clark’s campus and serves as its primary entrance. The two-story building overlooks the three-tiered reflecting pool, designed by Tadao Ando and Reed Hilderbrand, integrating indoor and outdoor spaces and creating a stunning visual connection to adjacent buildings and the woodland surroundings. The building provides 11,000 square feet of special exhibition space in galleries located on both floors of the building. The lower-level galleries are partially situated beneath a green roof that forms an exterior courtyard at the main entrance to the facility. The lobby overlooks the reflecting pool and is highlighted by a dramatic glass and concrete stairway that accesses the galleries, dining, and family areas located below.

The Clark’s primary retail facility is located on the building’s first floor, with interiors designed by California-based wHY Architecture and Design, led by principal Kulapat Yantrasast, who also designed Cafe? Seven, the Clark’s new dining facility. A granite and glass corridor links the Clark Center to the Ando-designed Museum Pavilion, a glass structure that creates a light-filled transitional space connected to the Museum Building’s new west-facing entrance.
“I like to accomplish art spaces that inspire viewers and evoke their creativity and freedom of thinking,” said Ando. “I have always been in awe of the Clark’s unique sense of place in nature. In both the Clark Center and Lunder Center, I have tried to express a deep respect for the landscape outside and an equal reverence for the art inside. It is critical that the art speak for itself and that viewers experience it in their own way.”

Museum Building

Selldorf Architects’ renovation of the Clark’s original Museum Building adds more than 2,200 square feet of new gallery space, a fifteen percent increase that creates a total of 17,700 square feet of space for display of the permanent collection. The new design maintains the original domestic character of the building, with views of the adjacent landscape and natural light that comes in from both side windows and skylights. Selldorf’s adaptation of former office and storage areas into new galleries enables the Clark to present more of its collection in originally scaled galleries. Circulation has been greatly enhanced in the renovation by reorienting the building to its original east-west axis and creating a new ease of access to perimeter galleries. Selldorf worked closely with the Clark’s curatorial team on the selection of wall colors and finishes for the reinstalled galleries and created elegant new casework and vitrines for the decorative arts collection along with custom-designed furniture. New environmental systems and lighting work together to bring the building to the highest museum standards.

Manton Research Center

Selldorf’s design for the renovation of the Manton Research Center—a 1973 building designed by Pietro Belluschi with The Architects Collaborative—reinforces the building’s purpose as a center for research and academic activities, and as home to both the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and one of the largest art history research libraries in the country. A key element of the ongoing renovation is the transformation of the former visitor services courtyard to a new reading room, bringing the public closer to the study of art. Selldorf also has designed a new Manton Study Center for Works on Paper on the main level with an adjacent gallery for regular exhibitions of the Clark’s prints, drawings, and photography collection, as well as a gallery space dedicated to the Manton Collection of British Art. Other highlights include a new bookstore and coffee bar.

“By distilling the essential character of these two buildings with very different architectural vocabularies, we are able to create a wholly revamped and refreshed Museum and Manton Research Center,” said Annabelle Selldorf, principal of Selldorf Architects. “The design changes may appear subtle to some, but required precision and restraint at all times. The result will better serve the Clark’s dual mission and enhance the visitor experience of the permanent collection.”



Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, led by principal Gary Hilderbrand, worked in close collaboration with Tadao Ando to articulate a dramatic new landscape design for the Clark that achieves new levels of environmental sustainability and creates an exceptional visitor experience. The unifying element of the landscape is the tiered reflecting pool that is the focal point of the new main campus and unites the three surrounding buildings with the natural setting.

The reflecting pool is at the heart of an integrated hydrology program that significantly reduces the Clark’s consumption of natural resources and enhances its land management practices. Other key elements of the design are substantial new plantings of native species, including some 1000 trees and the concurrent removal of invasive plants; upgrades to the existing network of walking paths and trails; a new entrance drive; and landscaped parking areas that accommodate 398 vehicles.

“Our design for the final phase of the campus brings the landscape into exemplary alignment with the Clark’s commitment to stewardship,” said Gary Hilderbrand. “The beauty of the reflecting pool and surrounding lands is certainly important, but we’re extremely satisfied with the knowledge that we have evolved, over the last ten years, a complex landscape that reflects its cultural roots in the Northern Berkshires and amplifies the natural processes that shape its topographic and spatial beauty.”


Inaugural Special Exhibitions

In addition to the reinstallation of the Clark’s permanent collection in reconfigured galleries, the July 4 opening will include the presentation of two special exhibitions:
Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum

On view in the West Pavilion gallery of the Clark Center, Cast for Eternity presents some of the finest surviving examples of early bronze work from the Shanghai Museum’s exceptional collection. These rare bronze works represent the finest quality craftsmanship and artistic accomplishment from China’s Bronze Age. This exhibition continues the Clark’s partnership with China’s Ministry of Culture and a number of Chinese cultural institutions, originally inspired by the centennial commemoration of Sterling Clark’s early scientific expedition to northern China. The curatorial team, led by Tom Loughman, associate director of the Clark, includes representatives from the Clark and the Shanghai Museum. Cast for Eternity is organized by the Shanghai Museum and the Clark Art Institute, and is supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. The exhibition is designed by Selldorf Architects.
Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith

Installed in the intimately scaled galleries and surrounding outdoor spaces of the Clark’s Lunder Center, Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith presents a selection of works by one of the most celebrated sculptors of the twentieth century. The exhibition marks the first time in more than thirty years that all five of the key sculptures from Smith’s Circle Series (1962– 63) are shown together. Its presentation on the Clark’s Berkshires campus creates a setting that is similar to (and less than one hundred miles away from) Smith’s Bolton Landing, New York home where the artist created and installed them. This exhibition is curated by David Breslin, associate director of the Clark’s Research and Academic Program and associate curator of contemporary projects.


On August 2, the Clark opens Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950–1975. The exhibition examines the different paths taken by abstract painting in the immediate postwar period. Drawn largely from the National Gallery of Art’s exceptional collection, the exhibition features some of the greatest works of mid-century abstract art:

Jackson Pollock’s iconic painting Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), along with key paintings by Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, and Yayoi Kusama.

Ranging from experiments with color and geometry to works in cloth, wax, and other materials, Make It New looks at the ways in which artists continued to expand the definition of painting during this time. This exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with the Clark, and is curated by Harry Cooper, curator of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art and David Breslin, associate director of the Clark’s Research and Academic Program and associate curator of contemporary projects.
The Clark Center aims to achieve LEED – New Construction Silver Certification from the United States Building Council (USGBC). Funding for this project has been provided by the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund: a program of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, administered through a collaborative arrangement between MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The Clark Art Institute is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, open to the public with more than 240,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

The Clark is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Opening season hours: Galleries open daily from July 4 through October 13, 2014, 10 am to 5 pm (Fridays in July and August until 7 pm). From October 14, 2014 through June 30, 2015: Galleries open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $20 through October 31, 2014 and free year-round for Clark members, children 18 and younger, and students with valid ID. For more information, visit Clark Art Institute or call 413 458 2303.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.