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Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States

Monday 16 Dec 2013

Art Institute to make a welcome return

Tadao Ando Architect & Associates 
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Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute to open its transformed campus on 4 July 2014 

At a press conference held in NYC last week, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute unveiled its newly transformed 140-acre art campus in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Now in its final phase of completion and set to open on 4 July 2014, the project is the most significant reworking of the Clark since it opened in 1955. The expansion, which was undertaken to improve the visitor experience, unites a new Visitor Center designed by Osaka-based Tadao Ando Architects, with an expanded Museum Building and the renovated Manton Research Center, both designed by Selldorf Architects from New York. These buildings surround a new one-acre reflecting pool, designed by landscape architect Reed Hilderbrand who is also reworking the Clark’s grounds to showcase its extraordinary setting in the Berkshires, a prized landscape known worldwide for its natural gifts and confluence of cultural venues.   

“The challenge of redesigning the Clark has been to find an architect to respect and improve on the landscape”, said Michael Conforti, the Clark’s Director. “It’s hard to find someone up to the task of being sensitive to the landscape and to the art.” In designing the new 44,000 sq ft Visitor Center, Ando said it was his aim to make the building as modest as possible. “Using contemporary materials, I tried to get the building to be quiet and calm. When the landscape grows it will create a scene that cannot be depicted by the Renaissance.” 

Made of stone, concrete and glass, the Visitor Center will serve as the new entrance to the Clark. The two-storey building, which overlooks a broad three-tiered reflecting pool, will house special exhibition galleries, new conference facilities and visitors' amenities such as a gift shop and dining facilities. The building is linked to the original Museum Building - designed in 1955 by Pietro Belluschi - through a light-filled glass entry pavilion that reinstates the building’s original orientation along an west-to-east axis.

“The 1955 Museum Building is the heart of the Clark”, said Annabelle Selldorf of Selldorf Architects. “Making that heart beat young again is the task. The Belluschi building is a difficult and big building in the landscape. I hope our work will quietly resonate”. That work adds more than 5,400 sq ft of new gallery space to the Clark, representing a 45% increase. Sellfdorf’s sensitive intervention reconfigures former offices and storage space into new galleries on two levels, allowing the Clark to present more of its collection while maintaing the feel and scale of the original building. Enhancements to the Museum Building include new galleries dedicated to European and American decorative arts; a new gallery for American art; a complete renovation of the original galleries; and new lighting and environmental controls.

Greater access to research was also an aim of the Clark’s transformation, hence the need for upgraded education facilities. Selldorf’s reworking of the Manton Research Center provides increased access to the Clark’s important collection of works on paper.  The building includes a new public reading room in the courtyard, enhanced by a bookshop, information area, and coffee bar, and a new gallery for the exhibition of prints, drawings, and photographs.  The project also includes renovated gallery space dedicated to the Manton Collection of British Art and technological upgrades to optimize the Clark’s auditorium for lectures, conferences, and performances.

For the summer 2014 opening the Clark will present a series of special exhibitions intended to celebrate its landscape, buildings and collection. The exhibitions will be the first 20th century shows undertaken by the Clark. The inaugural shows include: Make it New, Abstract Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, 1950-75; an Asian and antiquities show with 35 bronzes from the Shanghai Museum; and Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith, conceived to fit Ando’s building and the Clark’s landscape. 

Planning for Clark began in 2001 with a study by Cooper, Robertson & Partners that reconceived the campus.  Gensler, New York is the Executive Architect for the project.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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