Cows graze on the green hills behind the Clark Art Institute, but in the museum’s backyard, a herd of yellow backhoes and bulldozers hum and roar as they poke and push the earth.
“Our construction project is in full swing this summer. It’s a busy, busy time for us,” says Vicki Saltzman, director of communications.
The Clark has plunged into the final phase of an expansion project on its scenic 140 acres, and construction of the new Visitor, Exhibition and Conference Center is 60 percent complete. Designed by award-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the classic modernist building is scheduled to open next summer, giving the museum 42,500 more square feet of space for special exhibits and programs plus a new cafe and gift shop.
The original marble museum building is also being renovated for the first time since it opened in 1955, bumping up gallery space for the collection by 15 percent.
But for visitors arriving in Williamstown, it’s business as usual at the Clark, with the big summer exhibit in its usual gallery space.
“Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History” spans the American artist’s entire 50-year career as a painter, illustrator and printmaker and showcases the Clark’s renowned Homer collection.
‘Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History’ and ‘George Inness: Gifts from Frank and Katherine Martucci’
WHERE: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
WHEN: Through Sept. 8. Museum open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday in June; daily in July and August
HOW MUCH: $15; free for children 18 and younger and students with ID
RELATED EVENTS: Lectures about Winslow Homer are scheduled July 11 at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, July 21 and Aug. 4 at the Clark, Aug. 22 at Albany Institute of History & Art and Aug. 25 at the Clark. A lecture about George Inness is scheduled July 28 at the Clark
MORE INFO: 413-458-2303, clarkart.edu
Also appearing through Sept. 8 is “George Inness: Gifts from Frank and Katherine Martucci,” an exhibit of 10 luminous paintings by the 19th century American artist.
If the title of the Homer show seems familiar, it’s because an exhibit of the same name appeared at the Clark almost seven years ago. This is the enhanced version, and it’s curated again by Marc Simpson, a Homer scholar and associate director of the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
Watercolors owned by The Clark have been reframed the way Homer would have liked them, and eight more paintings have been borrowed. A letter, an etching and a book have been added, too. And this time, there’s a hefty catalog, “Winslow Homer: The Clark Collection,” that underscores the role of museum founder Sterling Clark, who regarded Homer as one of the greatest American artists.
“This project is a celebration of not only Homer’s work ... but that of the collector who assembled this particular cross-section of the artist’s work,” Executive Director Michael Conforti writes in the catalog’s foreword.
Visitors will see 60 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings and etchings as well as 120 rarely seen wood engravings. It’s a substantial and impressive chunk of the Clark’s 250 Homer works, which date from 1857 to 1904.
“The Clark is able to do his entire career, from soup to nuts,” says Simpson, as he stands near a wall of more than 50 Homer prints made from wood engravings.
“This was high-tech in the 1850s,” he says of the newspaper and magazine illustrations.
Another wall of prints is arranged by 10 themes, including Civil War, Music and Dancing, The Sea, Women and Work.
Homer and the Clarks
In 1955, at the museum’s debut exhibit, there were 35 paintings owned by the Clarks, and seven of them were Homers, more than any other one artist.
In 1915, Clark acquired his first Homer, “The Rooster,” which is at the Arkell Museum of Canajoharie, and the last one he bought was “Playing a Fish” in 1955, the year before he died.
In a gallery painted dark green, we find “Two Guides,” 1877, and “Undertow,” 1886.
“Clark is drawn to the Adirondacks,” Simpson says of “Two Guides,” a painting in which the figures gaze boldly out from the wilderness landscape.
“You have to start thinking of vision. It challenges you and you start thinking,” he says.
The powerful “Undertow” depicts two female bathers being rescued from the surf. In 1883, Homer witnessed a rescue of drowning swimmers that inspired the scene, which he completed three years later.
“Undertow is one of the great paintings in the Clark collection,” Simpson says.
Four of Homer’s surging seascapes dominate an adjoining gallery. The Yankee artist painted them later in his life, when he had a studio in Prout’s Neck, Maine.
“No other private collector had four Homer seascapes. This is one of the great institutions to see these,” says Simpson.
And here we can read letters that Homer wrote to business colleagues.
He was “a great personality,” says Simpson, describing the self-taught artist as “taciturn,” “a straight shooter who did not suffer fools gladly.”
Homer never married but he kept tight ties with his family and was very involved in the lives of his nephews, siblings and parents.
“He was principal caregiver for his father,” says Simpson.
In the late 1800s, while Homer was painting in Maine, Inness had embraced the spiritual philosophy of Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.
Of the 10 paintings in the Inness exhibit, two are from the Clark’s collection and eight are recent gifts.
“This is the most significant addition to the collection since its founding. We are presenting them for the first time,” says Senior Curator Richard Rand.
To accentuate the ethereal nature of the softly brushed landscapes, the works appear with only titles and dates. Instead of reading wall text, viewers are invited to carry a printed guide into the gallery.
Inness, who was born in 1825 and died in 1894, was inspired by the New Jersey countryside near his Montclair home.
“Home at Montclair,” an 1892 oil on canvas, is a winter scene of hazy sun and snow that balances naturalism and abstraction.
The painting was apparently a favorite of the Clarks, and while most of their artwork was locked away in storage, it reportedly hung in the couple’s New York City apartment.
News from the Clark
u Because of construction behind the museum, the parking lots have changed. Visitors can park in a small lot in the front, at the Stone Hill Center and on South Street. Employees in golf carts will shuttle visitors to and from their cars.
u The woods and fields remain open for hiking and geocaching. Bear, moose, horses and cows have been sighted from the trails.
u In the winter of 2014-15, the reflecting pool in front of the new Visitor, Exhibition and Conference Center will be turned into an outdoor ice skating rink.
u During this final phase of construction, landscapers will add more native species plants, including more than 350 trees.
u A Clark exhibit of 19th century French paintings continues to tour the world. On June 8, the show opened in Kobe, Japan, the eighth stop on a tour that has drawn more than 1.6 million visitors since it began in October 2010. In Tokyo, 215,000 people visited the exhibit in 90 days.
“It’s been a very exciting summer,” says Saltzman.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or email@example.com.