The Clark Art Institute opens its new visitors center and galleries on July 4. Above, an artist's rendering of the center at night.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Some call this neck of the woods the Purple Valley.
This summer, think lavender.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute on Thursday morning unveiled the first shows at its renovated and expanded facilities, and one of the highlights will be "Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)," a seminal work by Jackson Pollock that will anchor "Make It New: Abstract Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, 1950-75," the first show in the Clark's new Visitor Center.
Clark Director Michael Conforti and the project's principal architect, Tadao Ando, sat down with local media representatives to discuss the July 4 opening of the the remodeled 140-acre campus and the exhibits chosen to kickoff the Clark's emergence from two-years of construction.
"Lavender Mist" represents a departure for the Clark not unlike Pollock's own work revolutionized the art world in the mid-20th century. Conforti said the South Street institution's recognition of abstract art is important and overdue.
"I have this weird little reason why I like [the exhibit]," Conforti said. "These years [1950-75], which happened to be good years for the evolution of this particular theme, are also years in which the Clark was operating and never would have considered these works of art.
"Our charter was signed in 1950. We opened in 1955. [The Manton Research Center] was opened in 1973. And this period of art was not part of our consciousness. I think it's appropriate for us at a time when the next generation of art historians and art students — so much a part of the Williamstown community — they're actually working very diligently as historians of this field. The fact that we now can show it in the Clark context makes me sort of extra happy, although it's not the generating reason for the show."
And it is not to say that the Clark is abandoning the beloved 19th-century masterpieces that gave the museum its international reputation.
Quite the contrary, works by Renoir, Monet and Degas from the Clark's permanent collection will be on display as never before in an expanded and renovated 1955 Museum Building that features an extra 5,000 square feet of gallery space.
Ando's contribution is the the 44,400-square-foot Visitor Center, which includes 11,000 square feet of exhibition space. It is the second Clark building designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect; the Stone Hill Center opened in 2008.
Ando has been involved with the Clark since 2001, making numerous visits from Osaka, Japan, while also working closely with the "local architect" on the project, international design giant Gensler.
Through an interpreter, Ando said Thursday that the Clark's campus has a special appeal to him.
"I haven't experienced any location that has the hills so close by," Ando said. "They're very close. It's actually almost adjacent. If the hills are set back a little farther than we say now, it would be harder to design a building that's completely integrated in the landscape.
"Let's take [the Museum of Modern Art] in New York or any other museum. You go into the building, and right away you are in the museum, the art gallery. Here, you actually enjoy the surroundings and walk around before coming into the building.
"The appreciation of artwork is not shopping in a shopping center. You need to prepare yourself psychologically."
Although summer is "the season" for the Clark, as for other cultural venues in the Berkshires, Ando said the campus holds a special appeal on days like Thursday, when the air was crisp, the skies were blue and the ground was blanketed with snow.
"I love Williamstown in snow," he said. "I'd like to have people come and visit the Clark when there is snow on the ground. You approach the Clark from outside where everything is white, and once inside you will encounter the art pieces that will warm your heart."
Hearty souls in all weather will be able to enjoy more than two miles of trails that will be added to the Clark's campus when the expansion finally wraps up, and the winter fun will include skating on the three-tiered reflecting pool that also will help provide natural light for the gallery space in the Visitor Center.
Each of the two main galleries will be employed during the Visitor Center's inaugural season.
"Make It New," which will be curated by Harry Cooper of the National Gallery and the Clark's David Breslin, will include works by Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombley, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns and Yayoi Kusama.
The Visitor Center's West Pavilion will feature "Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum." The 32 objects in exhibit will mark the latest collaboration between the Clark and its Chinese counterparts; a recent Shanghai stop of the Clark's International Tour of items from the permanent collection drew 7,000 visitors per day, Conforti said. "Cast for Eternity" will be installed by Annabelle Selldorf, who also is the head architect on the renovations to the 1955 building and the Manton Research Center.
'Cast for Eternity,' ritual bronzes from China, opens in the West Pavilion.
The Stone Hill Center this summer will feature "Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith." Breslin also curates this exhibit of abstract sculptures by the Adirondacks-based Smith.
The Manton Research Center's new Center for Works on Paper will make its debut with a show titled "Photography and Discovery," curated by the Clark's Jay Clarke. Forty-five works by American and European artists from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is "the first extensive presentation of the [Clark's] growing collection" of photography, according to a news release.
Other items from Thursday's news event:
♦ The Clark will display one of four original drafts of the Magna Carta
in the upstairs exhibition space in the Manton Research Center when the historic document makes its world-tour stop in Williamstown in August.
♦ The museum is working hard to ensure that the July 4 opening date for the new-look campus will dovetail and not conflict with the town's annual Independence Day parade and community cookout on Spring Street, Clark Director of Communications Vicki Saltzman said.
♦ Conforti, while emphasizing that 20th-century works are important to the Clark's mission as a major teaching and research institution, strongly hinted that the 2015 summer exhibit will include a return to the impressionist themes celebrated at the museum in the past.
♦ The Clark's pop-up store on Spring Street, which has been extended beyond its original October closing date, will close for good later this month, Saltzman said.