For those who have not been to the Clark Art Institute recently, the prominent art museum is in the midst of exciting changes that will ultimately expand and improve gallery space. While the two buildings along South Street that many students would think of as “The Clark” are currently closed for these extensive renovations, this temporary closing does not mean that much of the institution’s famed collection cannot be viewed at all.
Further up the street sits the smaller Stone Hill Center, which houses two galleries. The modern, light-filled building opened in 2008, as a part of the Clark’s master plan to expand the physical space and improve the visitor experience on the museum’s 140-acre campus. Award-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed the strikingly simple, modern building. In addition to the galleries, the Stone Hill Center also houses Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), which treats and repairs historical artifacts and works of art by internationally known artists like Vincent van Gogh and Jackson Pollock.
There are currently three exhibitions on display at the Stone Hill Center for those interested in seeing the Clark’s collection during this hiatus, all of which will be on display until Jan. 31, 2014. Hundreds of years of history and several different artistic mediums are covered within these three exhibitions.
The first, “Sacred and Profane: Four Hundred Years of Religious and Mythological Paintings” focuses on Renaissance and Baroque pieces of art. Sampling famed artists such as Piero della Francesca (a name all “Aspects of Modern Art” students should recognize), the exhibit’s paintings are grand, featuring bright colors and seemingly unlimited gilding. Though many find such old and religious works to be boring, the stark contrast of the over-wrought and colorful paintings and their pure, simple surroundings is incredibly interesting to view in and of itself.
Another, entitled “Face Time: Portraits and Figures in Painting and Sculpture,” draws from the Clark’s collection to show a wide range of portraiture from the 16th to the 20th centuries. This exhibition, featured in a recent article (“What’s Hanging: ‘Trumpeter of the Hussars on Horseback,’” Oct. 2) possesses such a wide range of works that it seems to lack cohesion to the ordinary viewer. It is undeniable that these are great works of art. After all, famed artists such as David, Fragonard, Goya, Rodin and Sargent are all prominently featured. However, the depiction of faces across such a wide time span and across different mediums seems a rather loose correlation. Given the limited space, it is imaginable that a wider range needed to be allowed into each exhibition so that the museum could display as much as possible in the tight gallery space.
Finally, “Land, Sea, and Sky: The Natural World in Art 1600-1900” provides examples of excellence in landscape painting. Once again proving the Clark’s often-underappreciated prowess, the exhibit features painters like Monet, Renoir and Inness. The exhibit proves that landscapes often do more than just depict a mountain or a forest. They explore mankind’s relationship to these spaces – whether positive or negative. In this case, a more narrow subject matter accompanied with a somewhat wide time period works extremely well, making it rather easy to compare and contrast works of art and what they mean for different time periods.
Also new at the Clark is the SIX challenge. In an effort to make more people think critically about art, the museum has introduced a program that lets anybody write and publish an opinion on some of the art that is on display. Using either touchscreen computers on the Stone Hill campus, or right at home on the Clark website, viewers simply look carefully at an image and then choose six words to describe it. The words can form a sentence or be a fragmented list. They can be serious or funny. They can describe the physical features or focus on the more symbolic ones. The point is to allow for anyone to give their opinion and to share it if they wish.
Although not technically at the Clark, it should be noted that the museum also has two exhibits currently open in Shanghai, China. Both at the Shanghai Museum, one, “Sterling Clark in China 1908-09” tells the story of Clark’s fascination with and eventual journey to China and the natural artifacts he compiled while there. The second, “Barbizon Through Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark” is on its ninth stop of a world tour that has drawn over 1.6 million visitors since 2010. Both exhibitions will be open until Dec. 1.