Museums all over the world are expanding, from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the Mauritshuis in the Hague and New York's MoMA, sometimes to acclaim, sometimes resulting in rancor. Expansion fever has also spread to rural Massachusetts.
The Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, unveils this week the second major expansion since its 1955 opening. Designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the graceful glass, steel, concrete and granite addition augments the original neoclassical white marble edifice by architect Daniel Perry and a 1973 Brutalist expansion in granite by Pietro Belluschi. Interiors of the original building have been deftly renovated by New York architect Annabelle Selldorf, and the museum's 140-acre campus in the scenic Berkshire Mountains has been updated by Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, of Cambridge, Mass., to include a three-tiered reflecting pool conceived by Ando. Overall, the buildings now encompass about 280,000 square feet. (For the record, this writer attended graduate school at Williams College, whose program is housed at the Clark.)
The museum began to develop a master plan in 2001—so long ago that early communications, Ando said at a conference last weekend, were done by fax; the architect made about 20 site visits. The expansion includes over 11,000 square feet of temporary exhibition space and amenities like a loading dock (which the museum previously lacked). Roomier dining facilities as well as a shop and entry hall were overseen by Kulapat Yantrasast of L.A.'s wHY Architecture. The café, bookstore and ticket desk were formerly crowded into an atrium in the Belluschi building. That space will now host a reading room designed by Selldorf, to open in spring 2015.
The museum's permanent collection comprises more than 9,000 works, including over 30 canvases by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and fine examples by Edgar Degas, Piero della Francesca, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, along with extensive holdings of decorative arts. Among the collection's charms, too, are deeply unfashionable examples by academic artists like William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, at a conference last weekend, referred to the Clark as "a very distinguished institution located in a pair of not entirely distinguished buildings that were locked in a kind of awkward marriage." The new expansion, he said, has resulted in a bad marriage becoming a good family. Indeed, the pink granite 1973 structure formerly towered over the 1955 building, but the Ando addition on the far side of the original restores balance to the whole; a long, low wall of matching pink granite flanks the reflecting pools, echoing the Belluschi building.
The project's difficulties, Ando said in an interview with members of the press, included a long construction process and the design challenge of working with two existing buildings and a hill adjacent to the site. Also, "[Clark director] Michael Conforti talks a lot," he said, "but he has a vision." At the conference he pointed out that this project was the first time he has used stone.
"Changes had been made over time," Selldorf told A.i.A. in an interview, "but they were all of a very haphazard nature, so you had a museum that was idiosyncratic to begin with. Francine and Sterling Clark asked for a building that was at once a temple, a house and a museum. It defies logic, but there it was, and it was very personal and very successful. Conforti was keen on saying that they didn't want the renovation to keep people from recognizing the building. I think we changed it radically but in subtle ways."
In an earlier phase of the renovation and expansion, Ando designed the concrete Lunder Center, a small outpost up the hill from the Clark that opened in 2008 and includes conservation studios, classrooms and galleries. At the moment, the latter house an exhibition of the painted David Smith sculptures that so offended the purist critic Clement Greenberg. When researchers at the museum discovered that Sterling Clark had undertaken a surveying trip in China, they launched an ongoing partnership with that country; an exhibition of ancient Chinese bronzes is also now on view. "Make It New," an exhibition of 1950s-era abstract art, opens in a month in the new temporary exhibition spaces.
Clark wasn't exactly on the cutting edge; he commissioned a Greek temple-style building to house the museum during the same decade when, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim was built, and he collected work only as modern as the Impressionists. Asked whether Clark would approve of the museum's modern additions and programming, Conforti was sanguine. "What was great about Sterling Clark," he told A.i.A., "is that he left no restrictions in his will, which indicates that he accepted that there would be a future that he himself could not understand."
The museum opens to the public with a celebration on the Fourth of July, with hot dogs and fireworks over the reflecting pool.