WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Patrons flock to the Clark Art Institute for the world-class collection of paintings on the wall.
Odds are they do not give too much thought to the paint on the walls. But the creative team behind the Clark's multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation spent a lot of time making sure they got everything just so.
"We tried three different color schemes on this wall," said Kathleen Morris, the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions. "We landed on 'Beguiling Mauve.'"
It is the Renoirs soon to be hung in the gallery that will beguile thousands when the Clark reopens its doors to the public on July 4. But the entire visitor experience has been rethought by the Clark staff and the architects at New York's Seldorf Architects, who are responsible for the redesign of the 1955 "white building" and the Manton Research Center.
Morris and Senior Curator Richard Rand took local media members on a tour of the original marble museum building last week. Standing in the still-vacant Renoir Gallery, they explained how subtle changes to the room will help enhance the atmosphere.
"In the old scheme, the [crown] molding was another color, an off-white," Rand said. "Now, we're keeping it one color, which gives the impression of higher walls."
The skylight that floods the gallery with natural light has been refurbished, removing a slight yellow tinge that existed in the past, Morris said.
Natural light also will flood the space that staff is calling the glass box, a transitional space that forms the entryway to the original museum building, which patrons will now enter from the west side. Although the bridge from the Manton center remains intact, the main traffic flow will be through the glass box from the new Tadao Ando-designed visitor center.
Part of the restoration of the 1955 building is a return to its original east-west axis; the Manton bridge brings visitors into the south side of the white building.
Once one enters the familiar '55 building, he or she will encounter some old favorites given new prominence, as the Clark debuts its first gallery dedicated to American art. The first paintings one sees will be from the Clark's extensive collection of works by Winslow Homer, George Iness and Frederic Remington.
"We wanted to hit people with something familiar and dramatic," Rand said.
And they wanted to take full advantage of space that formerly was part of the Clark's "back of house." The new American gallery occupies square footage that formerly included the loading dock and offices for the Clark.
The loading dock now is a secure underground area in the visitors center, while the Clark's offices are in the Manton building. Seldorf Architects has recovered 5,000 square feet of gallery space in the white building, bringing the total square footage to 43,770, an increase of 15 percent.
And much of that gallery space has been reconfigured to improve flow and allow visitors to better appreciate the art on the walls and the decorative arts under glass.
Those decorative arts have been given their own galleries and custom casework. An intimate new gallery has been created to show off one of the prizes in the collection, Edgar Degas' sculpture, "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen." A small, focused gallery -- one of the few in the building without natural light -- will allow for thought-provoking displays of related work.
A sculpture courtyard has been created at the west end of the building, in space that looks out onto South Street and was the original museum lobby when it opened its doors in '55.
"Now, it's halfway through a tour of the building," Rand said. "It's going to be a place to rest and relax. The marble made us think of a winter graden or scultpure conservatory."
The sculpture courtyard will feature chairs to rest on during that "halfway point, and that is not the only way in which "new" white building will address visitors' "creature comforts." Restrooms in the basement of the 1955 building, which formerly were inaccessible to the public, will now be available for their use.
Overall, the hope is that the remodeled museum building will seem at once familiar and refreshed after being closed for two years. And as you reorient yourself and notice ways in which the space has been transformed, look for new art that graces the new-look galleries.
"We have quite a number of new acquisitions and items on loan," Rand said. "People who know the collection well will find lots of surprises."