Ando visits new Clark visitor center to assess progress

The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute is in the midst of a major construction project, spearheaded by renowned architect Tadao Ando. The plan is to construct a new visitor, exhibition and conference center directly behind the Manton Research Center. Ando, the architect responsible for the contemporary gallery space currently perched on Stone Hill, visited the site of the new visitor center to examine the project’s progress on Monday. The project is well underway and set to open in July of 2014. The excitement is tangible at the Clark: The new space will allow the museum to engage with art in a new, more ambitious way. Additionally, Ando hopes the visitor center will offer an experience unique to the Clark, one that allows the architecture, art and nature to work together harmoniously.

Ando visited the Clark on Monday morning for a brief press conference. The architect gave special insight to the background and goals for the project, elaborating on the reasons for his particular architectural style in the context of the area. Having never expected to work at the Clark for more than 10 years, he says the project has been fruitful and he is extremely excited for the new center. Since the project began, the Clark collection has been touring around the world. For those unfamiliar with the collection, it includes the celebrated works of many 19th-century French artists such as Renoir, Monet and Degas. As such, the touring works have attracted large crowds at exhibitions the world. Ando believes the new visitor center will be an appropriate “welcome home” to the pieces once they return to the Clark and hopes the new visitor center will bring increased attention to the Clark. Experiencing the arts is incredibly important according to Ando: “In order to live a long meaningful life, we must refresh ourselves with culture and art,” he said.

When designing this new building for the Clark, Ando concentrated on the space between the art. The chance to explore this space allows for an entirely new experience to explore the works on display, incorporating the rich green landscape that surrounds the museum as well as the four marked seasons that characterize the Berkshires. Changing seasons allow for the artwork to bring new meanings and experiences. The new space will include large windows and open areas, allowing the artwork to be seen through natural light rather than artificial, in addition to creating a coherent experience that flows naturally and thus does not distract from the artwork itself.

Going through slides of the plans for the location, Ando presented his idea for a long promenade featuring a large concrete wall running the extent of the path. This walk will allow visitors to reflect on the location of the pieces on display – a “moment of relaxation,” according to Ando. A large water feature will be placed in the building, facing Stone Hill. The feature will serve to emphasize the link between nature and architecture, as well as provide entertainment in the winter when it will double as an ice rink, which students of the College will surely be happy to hear.

Construction of the building is approximately half complete. The large wall of the promenade has already been erected; made of stone from the same quarry as that of the Manton Research Center, it is visually cohesive with the rest of the Clark. Much of the exhibition space will be located underground, and the facilities have purposely been placed underground in order to eliminate clutter, allowing the architecture to speak and interact with the art. Although incomplete, the open spaces and high ceilings of what will make up the exhibition space create a cohesive and continuous experience. A café and family center will also be underground, alongside a lower level water feature.

The Clark has evolved immensely since its opening in 1955: After starting off as a private collection, the Clark has become a dynamic institution, housing special exhibitions and events. The museum has also become an integral part in the College’s graduate program in the history of art. The new visitor space will reflect this evolution, capitalizing on the unique experience the Clark has come to provide.