“I won’t go on, since we only have a certain amount of money -- er, time,” said Michael Conforti in a notable Freudian Slip while introducing the speakers during yesterday's press briefing at the luxy Daniel restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Conforti, the director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., was unrolling the latest developments in his museum's long-running $100 million renovation and expansion. The Clark, Conforti ventured, is both an "arcadian retreat" and a "greenhouse of ideas," whose glorious pastoral setting -- 140 acres in the Berkshires -- "links Boston and New York."
The Clark's 2001 master plan has already born fruit in a $20 million, crisply minimalist Stone Hill Conservation Center, designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Tadao Ando, which opened in 2008.
Now, Ando has signed on to craft a new 44,400 square-foot Visitor, Exhibition and Conference Center (VECC) that, like the conservation center, is also slated to include new galleries. Also under way at the Clark is a renovation of the museum's original 1955 facility, overseen by German-born architect Anabelle Selldorf, and further landscaping of its 140-acre grounds, under the watchful eye of Boston landscape architect Gary Hildebrand.
At the press event, Hildebrand outlined his plan to engage the Northern Berkshires landscape, “re-articulating” the meadows surrounding the museum buildings and reframing the Clark as a “trailhead” for two miles of new walking paths throughout the campus. The centerpiece of the project is a 1.5-acre reflecting pool that turns into an enormous skating rink during the winter -- with Ando’s new building sited at water's edge.
Next, Selldorf explained the challenge of contending with an "architectural temple" like the Clark's original building. “The goal is to make it better -- without anyone noticing what you’ve done,” she said, detailing plans for a series of subtle adjustments, “like a chiropractor’s work.” Her design calls for updated lighting and a new elevator to improve traffic flow between galleries, which are to increase in size by 5,400 square feet, or 45 percent. Also in the plans are a redesigned library, a new courtyard reading room, and a coffee bar and bookshop.
Lastly, the venerable Ando waxed poetic, explaining through a translator that, as with his other buildings, he desires to create art-viewing “that nourishes the soul, placing the art and building in conversation with the natural landscape so you can feel time stop, feel the presence of the earth.”
“From the beginning, Michael has been harassing me to do something unique, something that can only happen at the Clark,” Ando said. “We’re still trying!”
Despite its homely name, the VECC is slated to serve as the light-flooded entrance into the museum, with a 2,500 square-foot glass pavilion opening onto stunning woodland vistas, and providing a new west-facing entry to the 1955 structure. Built in stone, concrete and glass, the center also houses 10,500 square feet of galleries for special exhibitions and a restaurant and shop. The scheme has received $30 million in financing through the Massachusetts state government.
“I want people to keep walking, looking at the art, the water, the green,” Ando concluded. “I force myself to walk at least 10,000 steps every day, so I can live to be 100. We can all live to be 100 -- keep walking!”
Conforti said that the Clark would remain open during construction, although it turns out that the original museum building is closing next month (see below). More importantly, the museum is launching something called ClarkNOW, an orthographically annoying program that boasts no less than 60 colloquiums, academic programs, exhibitions and installations, to take place in Williamstown and around the world.
One aspect of this hubristic enterprise is the debut of a brand new Clark office at the Explorers Club on East 70th Street in Manhattan. The club is, of course, the storied former redoubt of Stephen Clark, brother of Clark founder Sterling Clark. Inaugurating the new space in spring 2012 is "Phantoms of the Clark," an exhibition project by artist Mark Dion(b. 1961), whose signature art dioramas should fit in well with the club's present décor. Dion's installation is said to be inspired by Sterling Clark’s little-known scientific expeditions throughout Northern China in 1908-1909.
Next up at the Clark is "Rembrandt and Degas: Two Young Artists," opening Nov. 13, 2011, in galleries in the museum's Manton Research Center annex. Co-organized with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where the exhibition premiered, it later appears in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in spring 2012.
In addition, the Clark is presenting ClarkREMIX, a salon-style open-storage exhibition of 300 works from the collection. As part of this program, visitors are invited to propose a show from the Clark’s holdings, and one idea could be brought to fruition by the museum staff. Details are tba.