Gov. Deval Patrick meets with Chinese Ambassador Sun Guoxiang as Clark Associate Director Tom Loughman, right, looks on. iBerkshires.com has complete coverage of the grand re-opening of the Clark; click here.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The renovation and expansion of the Clark Art Institute has drawn a lot of compliments over the last couple of days.
But the governor of Massachusetts had a special reason to be impressed.
"I'm a frustrated architect, so first of all, ot the architects and landscape designers, I'm jealous of what you have produced and incredibly impressed by it," Deval Patrick told a crowd of 700 Clark supporters gathered on the terrace of the newly completed Clark Center on Saturday evening.
Patrick was in town to help the Clark celebrate the birth of the visitor and exhibition center and the rebirth of the institution's original 1955 museum building.
The museum's public grand opening comes Friday afternoon during the town's Fourth of July celebration.
But many town residents mingled with Clark patrons from beyond the region and dignitaries from Boston to Beijing at an invitation-only event to celebrate an accomplishment 15 years in the making.
The new Clark Center will allow the Clark to expand its scholarly programming and continue a commitment to contemporary art that began with 2008's opening of the Stone Hill Center, rechristened the Lunder Center at Stone Hill this weekend. And the 1955 "white building" has received a complete internal makeover by New York architect Annabelle Selldorf that makes viewing the Clark's permanent collection even more pleasurable than before.
Saturday's visitors got a first look at the new-look neoclassical marble home for the permanent collection and the first special exhibition in the Tadao Ando-designed Clark Center: "Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum."
The ribbon cutting at the latter event drew, among others, Chinese Ambassador Sun Guoxiang, who shared a moment with Patrick prior to the governor's remarks at the entrance to the 1955 building.
The museum conservatively estimates its improvement and expansion will increase visitors by 10 to 20 percent per year, an hike that will help drive the local economy in summer.
Conforti frequently talks about the combined efforts of Berkshire County's cultural institutions to lure visitors to the region. And on Saturday, he reminded the crowd that luring people to this corner of the commonwealth is an old challenge.
"When Edward Clark traveled from the Hudson River valley in 1827 to join Williams College, it was a very difficult time for this community," Conforti said. "Six years before that, a president, some renegade faculty and a group of students took the library and went over to the Connecticut River to establish Amherst College, thinking this was too difficult a place in which to have an institution of higher education — too many hills, too hard to get to, difficult geography.
"And we've been living with that issue ever since."
In fact, the one of the Clark's earliest backers saw the museum as part of the solution to that problem, as Conforti noted in an essay he wrote in the 2006 catalog, "The Clark Brothers Collect."
"The security and learning focus of the small New England college town appealed to Sterling [Clark]," Conforti wrote in explaining the decision to house the collection here. "In addition, the presence of the museum would bolster the town economy:
" 'The Institute ... will put this community on the art map of the world in somewhat the same way that the Huntington Library and art collection at San Marino in California has put Pasadena on the art map ... it will bring in a lot of tourist traffic as the Hungtinton has done.'
"Thus wrote J. Phinney Baxter, president of Williams, in 1953 on the economic benefit of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute to Williamstown and the Berkshire region two years before the new museum would actually open."
The new "new museum" is the result of an ambitious capital campaign as well as a master plan conceived back in the 20th century. On Saturday, the chairman of the Clark's Board of Trustees reported the capital campaign had surpassed its goal of $145 million and was nearing $150 million.
Peter Willmott told the crowd that the physical expansion will allow the Clark to broaden its contribution to the art world.
"This is a huge transition for us," Willmott said. "This facility will give the Clark management team and all the employees here an opportunity to do many, many different things in the field of art. And it will put this institution at a world-class level.
"You're here on a very, very important night for this institution."