The Clark's Renovations Sync With Natural Artwork

Jun 27, 2014

The reflecting pools overlook Stone Hill meadow.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

The Clark Art Institute will open the doors on a heavily anticipated renovation July 4th.

Architects and museum leaders proudly showed off the refurbished 140-acre Williamstown, Massachusetts campus, envisioned through plans that began taking shape in the late 1990s, on Friday.

“People will know that they’re in the Clark, but they’ll try to figure out how it’s changed and it’s changed in a million ways,” said museum director Michael Conforti.

The $145 million project added nearly 98,000 square feet of building space and numerous landscape improvements. The idea was to combine art and nature showcasing the physical beauty of the Berkshires as a masterpiece itself. The new 43,000-square foot Clark Center features glass walls and will serve as a welcoming area complete with a store and café along with 13,000 feet of gallery space. Gary Hilderbrand led the landscape architecture effort.

“When you come through the door of the new visitors’ center, the whole landscape is unfolded before you,” Hilderbrand said. “So you are looking at something that is not unlike what’d you’d see on the canvases inside.”

The lead designer was Japan’s Tadao Ando. Maddy Burke-Vigeland is with Gensler. The New York City-based firm was the project’s executive architect.

“The same with the materials too,” Burke-Vigeland explained. “In addition to the granite, Mr. Ando’s use of concrete and the natural wood floors. The nature of the materials is meant to blend into the landscape. You notice it obviously, but it’s the art that’s on view. It’s the art that’s important.”

Maybe the most eye-catching feature is the outdoor patio, which overlooks reflecting pools that descend to the foot of a hill with a pasture and grazing cows. With four miles of walking trails complete with five bridges meandering through more than 1,100 trees the campus appeals to more than just the art-lovers, according to Conforti.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

“You could love coming to the Clark and just hanging out here,” Conforti said. “Walk in our two new miles of walking trails, eat in our café and shop even if you don’t care about going into the museum. I wouldn’t encourage that, but it’s still possible,” Conforti said with a chuckle.

The project also included the renovation of the Clark’s iconic main museum space built in 1955, which is what you see when passing by on South Street. Annabelle Selldorf headed the effort to convert office areas to gallery space and revamp show room lighting and casework. She says the sleek new glass and granite entrance that gradually slopes upward via a glass walkway to the original marble building allows visitors to ease into the art.

“One tends to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape,” Selldorf said. “So there is a moment when you can take stock of where you are and what you are about to see. Then completely immerse yourself in really an exquisite collection of absolutely marvelous art.”

Hilderbrand says the Clark is the leading force in a trend of cultural institutions becoming part of their community and claiming their natural landscape as assets.

The Clark Center
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

“Unlike being at the Metropolitan in New York or at The Art Institute in Chicago, at the Clark you’re here to see some great works of pastoralism in a pastoral setting. The project has really positioned that. It’s made it possible to understand landscape before you ever see the works.”

Even more is to come with a new 107,000-square foot research center to open next spring. The final phase of project created more than 520 construction jobs for those in Capital Region and Massachusetts.