This fall, the Clark Art Institute is showing four special exhibitions; two of which, “Cast For Eternity” and “Make It New,” highlight distinct artistic periods in world history. Informative as well as pleasing to the eye, both shows are worth visiting this month before they close.
While the Clark is well known for its collections of European and American art, “Cast For Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum” represents an effort to diversify the museum’s exhibitions, according to Tom Loughman, associate director of the Clark. “Instead of doing a show that might be parallel with the collection, we thought showing our range would give people a sense of what’s possible,” Loughman said.
The exhibition is made up of pieces from the late Xia through Western Han dynasties. The large variety in shape, size and style illustrates how art evolved alongside technology during the Bronze Age in China. The artwork in this exhibit is on loan from the Shanghai Museum as part of a partnership meant to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Sterling Clark’s scientific exploration of northern China in 1908. Several more cooperative efforts are scheduled to take place in the next several years. In an effort to create a more intimate environment for the show, only 40 pieces were selected and are being displayed in a room with natural sunlight as the main source of light. The small number of pieces makes it possible for the viewer to spend a longer time admiring each piece. All of the art is remarkably well preserved, and it is a wonderful opportunity see the craftsmanship and reflect on the technique and skill required to have made these artifacts with ancient tools. The casts feature intricate engravings and are often adorned with carefully rendered animal figurines including dragons, yaks and snakes. Highlights of the show include an entire set of bells (zhou) dating back to the late Spring and Autumn Period, which stretched from 771 to 403 BCE.
Fast-forwarding several centuries and traveling halfway across the globe brings us to the second exhibit currently on display. “Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950-75” was curated in collaboration with the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and offers much more in the way of visual stimulation due to the bright colors and bold shapes throughout the exhibit. Featuring Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) as its centerpiece, the exhibit explores the evolution of modern art in the postwar period.
The setup of the exhibit links the vast range of forms and styles by categorizing the paintings into different rooms, each with its own theme, creating an easy-to-follow progression. The exhibit begins with “Abstract Expressionism,” which transitions seamlessly into “Color Field.” Then, the rooms switch from being organized by movements to unifying concepts such as pattern, shape and texture. The exhibit includes paintings from well-known artists such as Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly as well as paintings by lesser-known artists. Much of the artwork is presented on a massive scale, making the colors and forms even bolder. In each room, the exhibit high-lights the vast array of interpretations of each theme or movement. It juxtaposes the geometric with the fanciful, the busy with the simplistic and the bright with the somber.
“The Clark has been masterful in bringing the right group of objects together to allow for close looking and a transformative experience for the viewer,” said Loughman. Due to the extreme variety of the artwork, the exhibit offers something for everyone and manages to be historical and informative as well as emotionally stirring.
With two such drastically different exhibits currently on display, anyone who decides to visit the Clark this fall will surely find something of interest. From the art scholar to the amateur admirer, both exhibitions offer something in the way of intellectual stimulation and excitement. “Cast For Eternity” is on display until Sept. 21st and “Make It New” closes Oct 13th. Select courses will at-tend both exhibits this fall, but Loughman encourages everyone to come pay a visit to the Clark this fall. “We did it for you; we did it for the campus community,” Loughman said.