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Jay Clarke, the Manton curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark Art Institute, gives the final press preview tour before she leaves the museum for Chicago.

New Clark Art Exhibit Draws From Philanthropist's Collection

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Regular visitors to the Clark Art Institute might recognize this drawing or, at least, the sculpture it inspired. (Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), 'Three Studies of a Dancer,' c. 1880. Black, pink, and white pastel on light brown paper, 18 3/4 × 24 3/4 in. Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, 2001.12.)

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Jay Clarke, the Manton curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark Art Institute, is going out with a bang.

Clarke, who is leaving the Clark after nine years to return to the Art Institute of Chicago in her hometown, has curated a show featuring one of the world's finest private collections of drawings: those assembled by New York art dealer and philanthropist Eugene V. Thaw.

Thaw donated his collection of more than 400 drawings to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, which celebrated the gift with the September 2017 opening of "Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection," an exhibit that has drawn critical acclaim for the diversity and quality of the works presented. In recognition of Thaw's longstanding interest in the Clark Art Institute, "Drawn to Greatness" will travel to Williamstown for an exclusive presentation at the Clark from Saturday, Feb. 3, through April 22.

The exhibit was supposed to be a tribute to Thaw, but it has ended up being an exhibit in memory to him instead: Thaw died a month before the exhibit opening, on Wednesday, Jan. 3, at his home in Cherry Valley, N.Y., at the age of 90.

"It is an honor for the Clark to have the opportunity to show this exquisite collection in our galleries," said Olivier Meslay, the Felda and Dena Hardymon director of the Clark.

Meslay said Thaw will be remembered as a "legendary figure" in the art world, a "renaissance man" who believed art should be public for everyone to enjoy. This exhibit honors that, Meslay said, describing it as "artistry in six rooms."


Clark Art Institute Director Olivier Meslay introduces the new exhibit of drawings on Wednesday.

"The works in this exhibition provide an incredibly rich and remarkable opportunity to consider the art form as practiced by generations of masters. It is one of the most important and impressive drawing exhibitions that has been assembled in decades.

"Each piece is really a masterpiece," Meslay said during a press preview at the Clark on Wednesday. "Each of them could be the prize of any big institute in the world."

Clarke, leading her last press preview in her role at the Clark, said Thaw himself chose all the mats and frames for the exhibit, matching them to the era of the drawing. Some are actually from the period, while some are made to look like they are, but they all contribute to the experience, she said.

"It really adds to the experience of looking at the drawings," she said.

Looking at drawings is something Thaw himself used to visit the Clark to do, said Clarke, recalling her few meetings with him before his death.

"He was so excited. … He completely came to life seeing the drawings," Clarke said, describing him as a "real gentleman" who really appreciated the museum's academic endeavors as well as its collection. "He was really passionate about the scholarly mission of the Clark."

The exhibit of his collection spans two galleries: a chronologically organized section in the lower level of the Clark Center and a selection of Renaissance-era drawings over in the Manton Research Center. Maps will be provided to help visitors navigate across the campus between the two galleries.


Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956), Untitled (Abstract Ram), c. 1944. Opaque paint, pen and black and red ink on paper, 29 3/4 × 19 3/4 in. Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, 2010.143 © 2017 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

"I didn't want it to be a crowded hang," Clarke said in explaining the decision to split the exhibit, saying she wanted to the drawings to be able to "breathe."


 

Featuring 150 drawings that tell the story of a visionary collector, the exhibit examines five centuries of western drawing. Sketchbooks belonging to Jackson Pollock, Francisco de Goya, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cezanne and illustrated letters from Vincent van Gogh are among the works exhibited. Several Cezanne works take up one section in the Clark Center gallery.

"I thought they needed a whole wall to themselves," Clarke said, also pointing out the Degas drawings that regular visitors to the Clark will recognize as the studies of the famous "Little Dancer" statue located elsewhere in the museum.

Clarke explained that after this exhibit closes, the drawings will go back to Morgan, where most of them will be put into storage to rest for a few years.

"This is their big moment in the light," she said.

The exhibit extends the museum's relationship to Thaw who, in 2016, made a generous gift to create the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper in the Clark's Manton Research Center.

"These exceptional drawings, watercolors and collages exemplify both the eternal power of the drawn line and the innovative genius of the artists who have explored the medium over five centuries," Clarke said. "This exhibition is a real feast for the eyes."

This Sunday is free admission; first Sundays are free through May 6. The Clark is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5. 


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