Clark begins second phase of restoration

More than seven years since its official public announcement, Tadao Ando’s design for the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute’s comprehensive campus restructuring has once again been put into action. Construction of the most recent phase, which began late last April, will provide groundwork and expanded facilities for future museum initiatives. The overall plan calls for large-scale architectural and landscape adjustments – including the addition of 95,000 square feet in the new Exhibition, Conference, and Visitor Center located behind both the 1955 white “temple of art” and the Manton Research Center – renovation of the existing two wings, landscape redevelopment and the already completed relocation of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC) to the newly constructed Stone Hill Center.

Ando, whose elegant, subtle manipulations of concrete and light and mastery of Japanese-influenced modernism have led to international acclaim, is largely known for the incorporation of active, natural elements in his designs. Recipient of the 1995 Pritzker Prize and the designer behind such respected buildings as the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, his architecture often emphasizes the organic forms of a landscape rather than conforming natural space to design.

The chosen architect was, according to the Clark’s director of communications Vicki Saltzman, a natural fit. “Ando’s selection was very much in line with the thinking that our facility should respect the importance of architecture and the relationship between architecture and art. We thought it was natural how the Ando building fit into the imprint of Stone Hill, and having him design the plan for the next theoretical phase would bring the project in a full circle back to the Clark,” she said.

The landscaping and redevelopment components will work alongside the new exhibition spaces to create a museum experience more fully integrated with the pastoral setting. Visitors will access the museum grounds via a new main entrance in the Visitor Center, which will directly face the redeveloped network of trails, overseen by Hilderbrand Associates of Watertown, Mass., leading up to the Conservation Center. Set in the shadows of Stone Hill, an additional courtyard extended behind the already extant wings to the new building will include a 1.5-acre reflecting pool to be used for ice-skating in the winter.

The current construction at the Clark, now visible on approach from South Street, is part of the present installation of the master plan. Phase I, which oversaw the relocation of the Conservation Center, the largest of its kind in the country, to the newly built 32,000 square-foot facility at Stone Hill Center, was completed at a cost of $25 million by the summer of 2008. Now focusing on development at the main campus, Phase II will divide future construction into two distinct projects. Phase II a, the results of which can now be seen in progress, will focus on expanding outdated infrastructure in preparation for future changes, including HVAC, electrical and mechanical foundations as well as facilities for art handling and storage.

Phase II b will primarily focus on the construction of the new Exhibition, Conference, and Visitor Center, which will house special exhibition galleries and visitor amenities, including conference and symposia facilities, a gift shop and a restaurant.

Additional renovation of both existing wings, led by New York-based Selldorf Architects, calls for a 40 percent increase in exhibition space in the 1955 building. The 1973 Manton Research Center will also undergo further expansion, including restructured galleries for further space to house the permanent collection, a public reading room and a study center for works on paper.

While the project’s estimated completion date still hinges on board approval of Phase II b, Saltzman indicated a potential 2014 opening. “If the board were to take action in early 2011, it would be feasible to move on to Phase II b in a seamless transition in mid-2011,” she said. The currently fluid construction market makes budget projections difficult, meaning that trustees may not be able to decide quite so soon. Still, careful consideration of the museum’s available resources, enhanced by Sterling Clark’s original endowment as well as additional funding from donations and retail, has left the administration “feeling very good about moving forward at this point in time.”

In the meantime, the Clark’s permanent collections will undergo a temporary reshuffling. Last summer’s blockbuster hit, “Picasso Looks at Degas” opened last Friday at Barcelona’s Museo Picasso. Just last week the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid oversaw the opening of “Passion for Renoir,” marking the first time the Clark’s 31 Renoirs have ever been allowed to travel. The latter is part of a loan series of 73 19th century French masterpieces. Both are exemplary of the kind of international partnerships the Clark hopes will lead to deepened collaboration and possible future exchanges.

Although many of the works that have come to characterize the Clark’s collection will remain on tour for various lengths of time, the administration has prepared extensive plans for the interim. With the Stone Hill Center’s recent exhibition of works by Juan Muñoz, the first contemporary installation in nearly 20 years – Muñoz’s Degas-inspired “Hanging Figure” even temporarily took over the spot in Gallery 2 usually held by the iconic “Little Dancer” – the Clark has proven its willingness to push boundaries. When asked about the museum’s future vision, Saltzman said, “Everything that people love about the Clark will still be there, but enhanced in new ways so that the museum continues to be a place that engages you in the future as well as it has in the past.”

Between the fresh interplay of art and architecture and the buzz of a new building project, the Clark certainly has its work cut out. But with the ringing construction sounds of Phase II a, and the Conservation Center nestled snugly atop Stone Hill, major undertakings are already clearly underway.

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