The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute in Williamstown is in the final phase of its campus expansion program. This phase includes construction of a new Visitor, Exhibition and Manton Research Center. While these three buildings have different dates for the progression of their construction, according to the Director of Communications Vicki Saltzman, the Clark fully expects the projects to reach simultaneous completion sometime in late spring and are targeting the summer of 2014, in early July, for the Clark to fully reopen.
This expansion began when it became clear that the Clark was running out of space to accommodate the expansion of its collection. “Sterling Clark and his wife probably envisioned just a place to see their collection, but at the same time they established an institution that had no restrictions on what might happen in the future,” Michael Conforti, director of the Clark, said in a promotional video released on the Clark webiste. Conforti explained the Clark knew that, in embracing a college community, it would be more than just an art museum. This notion helped to facilitate the expansion of the Clark.
“When I came to the Clark in 1994, we knew that we needed to cobble together a space for special exhibitions,” Conforti said in the video. This first plan for the campus expansion program was completed in 2008 with the completion of the Stone Hill Center, a new building affording panoramic views from its location on a previously undeveloped portion of the campus with gallery spaces, community meeting rooms, outdoor café, walking paths and even houses the state-of-the-art facility for the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. “When that was completed, many people close to the Clark thought that we were finished, but we knew that we wanted to begin to get focused on the next step,” Conforti said.
In summer 2010, work began on the infrastructure for the next phase of the project, the construction and renovation of the main campus buildings and grounds. Work on a new loading dock, food service and core mechanical facilities and other back-of-house spaces was completed in 2012. With these completions, the Clark began its final stage of construction by choosing Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design a modernist building that seamlessly blends the exhibition space with the other buildings and the surrounding nature.
During this final stage of construction, there are three separate buildings under construction, new Visitor, Exhibition and Manton Research Centers. The Visitor Center is being done in a series of stages and is moving quickly towards completion, according to Saltzman. The architectural design of the museum building, or Exhibition Center, was finalized in the previous months, and construction is moving very quickly, as one can already see the form of the building as well as the beginnings of what will become the reflecting pool. Finally, the Manton Research Center, the last piece of the project, which began last August with the installation of fire suppression in the library, began work to completely renovate the lobby and gallery areas. While this project was the last to begin construction, Saltzman said that the Clark fully expects it to finish at the same time as the other two projects since it is not as complex as the others.
However, the Clark is not sitting idle during construction. The employees at the Clark have made a commitment to expand their horizons and create innovative interactions with its collection of art during this period. For example, Clark staff are currently working on new projects and initiatives. Additionally, 73 of the Clark’s greatest French paintings have been traveling throughout Europe and Asia during the construction period to showcase what the Clark has to offer in an international setting. Also, a program is currently being developed to display art from the collection in New York City.
In addition, here in Williamstown, while both the museum building and Manton Research Center galleries are closed for renovation, selected works from the permanent collection are on display in three installations at the Stone Hill Center. These exhibitions, collectively called “Trio,” or individually “Face Time: Portraits and Figures in Painting and Sculpture,” “Land, Sea and Sky: The Natural World in Art 1600-1900” and “Sacred and Profane: Four Hundred Years of Religious and Mythological Paintings,” are open and free to the public. The Clark library remains open, and the auditorium is still operational, offering a full series of broadcasts, films and performances.
According to Saltzman, this exhibition in the Stone Hill Center has been very successful. “People understand that you can’t renovate a building and keep art in the same building. That being said, people love the installation and the new interactive puzzle where they make a six-word poem based on artworks in the exhibition,” Saltzman said. “People have responded really well to the exhibition and seem excited for what is to come next year.” The Clark is pleased with this positive reaction since they are still counting on the support of the community in this interim period.
While the construction is targeted to be finalized in late spring, the museum will not reopen until early August, since it takes time for regulatory environmental controls to be reinstalled and to be able to move the art back into the exhibition space, Saltzman said. However, when the Clark does reopen in the summer of 2014, there will be a celebration of the end of construction as well as the new Clark, although specifics have not been determined.
The Clark has embraced the challenge of creating a new, innovative space to learn to think outside the box and challenge pre-conceived notions of the uses of art, all while maintaining a familiarity with the surrounding community that opens a wide variety of opportunities.
Additional reporting by Paige Wilkinson ’16.