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More on Expanded Clark Art Institute: Added Art, Hidden Entrance, Unintended Water Feature

Senior curator Richard Rand with new Carpeaux acquisition All photos by Lee Rosenbaum

Senior curator Richard Rand with new Carpeaux acquisition
All photos by Lee Rosenbaum

Given my space limitations, there were many details about the Clark Art Institute’s expansion that didn’t make it yesterday into my Wall Street Journal piece (nor into my CultureGrrl blog post).

So let’s return for another look at the good, the bad and the ugly to be discovered while exploring the Clark’s much enhanced campus:


Yesterday, I barely mentioned the intelligent, resourceful work done by landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand in renewing and enhancing the idyllic outdoor setting, not only through his alluring design (with architect Tadao Ando) of what I called in the WSJ the “‘wow’ feature”—the one-acre reflecting pool—but also, more subtly and just as importantly, by adding trails and plantings, and restoring the turf.

“We picked up everything and put it back carefully, in slightly different places,” Hilderbrand said. His handiwork apparently met with approval from the local bovines-in-residence, who have returned to mow the grass (as seen here from behind the window and granite wall of the spacious, elegantly designed new Clark Center):


The Clark’s new three-tiered reflecting pool (illustrated in both my article and my slideshow) is not only beautiful to gaze upon, with water cascading through its granite stepping-stones, from one level to the next…


…but also is an integral part of the complex new water-management system, which “reduces the Clark’s potable water consumption by approximately 50 percent,” according to Hilderbrand.

Equally intelligent and subtle were architect Annabelle Selldorf‘s alterations and upgrades to the room layouts and mechanical systems in the Clark’s original building. Most significantly, the width of the white marble-clad original front entrance hall (now at the rear of the reoriented visitor pathway) was narrowed to provide well-proportioned galleries on either side, where the Clark’s European silver and other decorative art objects are arrayed to better advantage and “for the first time installed in proper casework,” according to Kathleen Morris, director of collections and exhibitions, and decorative arts curator.

Here’s Morris in the redesigned space, with the marble hall behind her:


And here’s a closer look at the centerpiece of this space, an Austrian soup tureen and stand, 1779-81, by Ignaz Joseph Würtz:


The marble hall now has as its centerpiece an important new marble acquisition—Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s sensuous, nearly five-foot-tall “Daphnis and Chloë,” 1874. Rand noted that recent acquisitions have allowed him to include sculptures “in almost every room.”

Here’s a closer look at the Carpeaux (also pictured at the top):


Enhancing the permanent-collection display are some 40 loans from collectors and institutions, including this opulent French commode by Denis Genty, c. 1760, borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum:


Pausing before a small but stunning loaned work by Peter Paul Rubens, Rand expressed his hope that the Clark might eventually acquire the privately owned “Portrait of a Young Man,” 1613-15:


“We also need to beef up Post-Impressionism,” the curator noted. Helping to fill that gap temporarily next summer will be “Van Gogh and Nature,” a show organized by Richard Kendall, the Clark’s curator-at-large.

The first round of special exhibitions will also supplement, rather than complement, the works in the permanent collection. On view upstairs in the Clark Center (in a space that sometimes will be used for conferences and events, not special exhibitions) is Cast For Eternity: Ancient Ritual Vessels from the Shanghai Museum. I remember bells like these, 8th-7th century BCE, from my 2010 visit to their home museum:


Another temporary show is now on view at the Clark’s other Ando-designed facility, which opened in 2008 on nearby Stone Hill—Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith, much of which is on loan from the artist’s estate:


Opening in the Clark Center’s three downstairs galleries on Aug. 2—Make It New: Abstract Paintings from the National Gallery of Art.

In all, it will be an eclectic array that brings to the Clark’s visitors material that is very different from the subject matter of its prior temporary exhibitions, which largely stuck to the permanent collection’s focus on non-contemporary European and American art.


I already fulminated about the view-obstructing granite wall. What I didn’t mention is that visitors’ approach to the new Ando building is also unwelcoming. In a familiar Japanese gesture (also characteristic of some Frank Lloyd Wright residences), the entrance to the Clark Center is largely concealed from view by a granite slab, at the end of the long walkway from the parking lot (which will probably be free of machinery when you see it):


You’re not quite sure you’re approaching the entrance until you’ve almost arrived at the door. A museum seeking to appeal to a broad public should be more immediately inviting than this:


You can go straight through that opening, out to the expansive patio overlooking the water feature, without paying admission. But first you’ll have to navigate the pillar that’s positioned smack in the middle of your path. (Do not get engrossed in your smart phone!):


That said, I was won over by the complex, angled intersections of concrete, steel and glass in the entrance hall of Ando’s Clark Center interior (seen in this photo from the lower level). It is an appealing sculptural composition in its own right:


Simpler might have been better, though, in the underground galleries. Two of those three spaces are oddly angled—tapered at one end, rather than box shaped. The slant is particularly extreme in this gallery, which is merely door-width at one end (behind the green-lit “exit” sign):


I also have reservations about the unevenness of illumination coming from the two windows that open into a cavity that admits shafts of sunlight from above. Here’s one of them:


Informed judgments about the functionality of these special exhibition galleries will have to await the opening next month of the National Gallery show, co-curated by Harry Cooper, that museum’s curator of modern art, and David Breslin, associate director of the Clark’s Research and Academic Program and its associate curator of contemporary projects.


Like the in-renovation Manton Research Center, which was not open to us during the press preview, the landscaping is still very much a work-in-progress. Here, bordering Manton, is an unintended water feature:

Some of the fresh seedings got washed away during a very severe thunderstorm (that I experienced), two nights before the press preview. A lot of the grounds still look muddy and bare:


But visiting when we did, a week before the July 4 public opening, gave us one special treat (although I’m not sure how many members of the scribe tribe actually went around back to see it). Between my first and second days of prowling the campus, the Clark’s lily pond suddenly erupted into glorious bloom:


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