After sunset, the frogs call to each other in the new reflecting pool at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
“The Clark has always talked about art in nature. . . .This used to be a parking lot,” says Communications Director Vicki Saltzman, as she peers into the shallow manmade pond filled with river rocks of many shapes and colors.
Peaceful and shimmering, the one-acre water terrace laps against the Clark Center, the new visitor and exhibition center. On an outdoor patio at the water’s edge, Japanese willow trees tremble with the breeze and stylish chairs and benches beckon visitors who want to relax or sip a cool drink.
Made of red granite and highly polished concrete, the outer walls and angles of the building seem to frame the forest and rolling green hills in the distance.
“We’re turning your direction to the landscape,” says Saltzman.
“It’s breathtaking. That’s what people are saying when they walk in,” adds a woman who works at the admissions desk.
On July 4, after nearly 15 years of planning and construction, the Clark unveiled the final phase of a $145 million expansion project on its 140-acre rural Berkshires campus.
The Clark is also celebrating the return of 73 French paintings that toured the world for three years, as well as the reopening of the original 1955 museum building, which has been closed since 2012.
There’s a new admission price, too. In the summer and early fall, the Clark will charge $20, a $5 increase. Free admission will continue from Nov. 1 to June 30.
At the admissions desk, visitors will be now offered MP3 players (hand-held mini tablets) for self-guided tours.
This summer, visitors can rediscover their favorite French Impressionist paintings in the original museum building and explore three new exhibits. Two of them, “Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum,” and “Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art” appear in the Clark Center.
The Sterling And Francine Clark Art Institute
WHAT: Expanded and transformed museum campus
WHERE: 225 South St., Williamstown, Mass.
EXHIBITS: “Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum,” through Sept. 21, Clark Center; “Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith,” through Oct. 29, Lunder Center at Stone Hill; “Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950-1975,” Aug. 2-Oct. 13, Clark Center.
HOW MUCH: $20 for adults, free for students with ID and children under age 18
MORE INFO: www.clarkart.edu, 413-458-2303
In “Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith,” four sculptures by the renowned Lake George artist are installed on the other side of the campus, at the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, and one appears in the Clark Center.
The big summer exhibits will now be mounted in the Clark Center. The Manton Research Center, where those shows were presented for many years, is still being renovated and will reopen in September.
Setting the stage
A visit to the new Clark begins with a walk from the parking lot, past a small, natural pond dense with fragrant pink and white water lilies.
With the campus re-do, this Monetlike scene was revealed. “The Lily Pond has been there forever,” says Saltzman.
Designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the Clark Center is unobtrusive from a distance but unfolds dramatically inside, with an expanse of light oak flooring and changing outdoor views through walls of glass.
A room called the West Pavilion, currently a gallery for the ancient Chinese bronze pieces, is a multipurpose space where conferences, lectures and other programs will be held the rest of the year.
The Clark Center also houses an airy gift shop and a lunch space catered by Stephen Starr, a Philadelphia restaurateur.
The Clark Center and the museum building are connected by an indoor walkway with a slight incline. In Japanese culture, this rising floor is symbolic. “We’re going to a place of importance,” says Saltzman.
The marble exterior of the museum’s west end is now a grand entrance that opens directly into an American paintings gallery, where we come face to face with Winslow Homer seascapes.
“We gained 2,000 feet in this building without changing the footprint. We rethought the flow through the building. It’s familiar in one sense, fresh and new in another,” says Saltzman.
The Renoir Room, with its skylight and French Impressionist masterpieces, is open and better than ever after closing for renovations in September 2012.
Returned from tour
The paintings are back on the walls after traveling around the world: to Europe, China and across America.
Touring museums in 11 cities, the 73 paintings were viewed by 2.6 million people, Saltzman says. “We introduced the Clark to the world in a very big way.”
An exterior skylight was replaced and the walls painted.
“The quality of light in here is so improved,” she says.
In next room, “Nymphs and Satyr,” a signature painting by Bouguereau, is back after two years at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the walls of this large gallery are now a deep, velvety purple.
At the building’s far east end, where visitors entered in the 1950s, decorative marble work has been exposed along the ceiling, and a newly acquired Carpeaux sculpture, “Daphnis and Chloe,” is the centerpiece.
While visitors will see all the Clark’s beloved art treasures, they will encounter them in new and improved spaces, as walls have been moved.
In one niche, an Edgar Degas sculpture that’s another Clark emblem stands on a pedestal at the center of a niche gallery.
“The Little Dancer now has her own space,” Saltzman says.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]