When Alexis Goodin said she was going to have a few friends over for lunch, she did not expect more than 30 of them to show up.
Yet that’s what happened when she recently hosted an installment of the popular "Looking at Lunchtime" series at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Goodin, the Clark’s curatorial research assistant, and an alum of the Clark’s graduate program in art history, hosted this year’s first midday talk on one of the museum’s nuggets, Vincent van Gogh’s "Terrace in the Luxembourg Gardens."
"’Looking at Lunchtime’ talks provide an opportunity for curators to speak about works of art we find compelling and to interact with our visitors," Goodin said. "I’ve given several lunchtime talks, and have been rewarded with insightful questions and observations by people who attend."
Goodin did her part during the informal lecture, giving a clinic on van Gogh. She said the choice of that painting was a result of a stroll through the galleries with the Clark’s curator of education Michael Cassin, and the ongoing "Clark Remix" show.
"Clark Remix," now halfway through its two-year run, immerses visitors in a gallery filled with more than 80 paintings, nearly 20 sculptures, and more than 300 decorative arts objects from the museum’s permanent collection.
"I walked through the galleries with Michael Cassin a few weeks ago, and we talked about paintings I might discuss during my lunchtime talk," Gooding said. "I wanted to speak about a work that hadn’t been featured recently, and one that could also be easily seen by visitors."
In "Clark Remix," Goodin continued, one needs to be aware of space constraints, since paintings are tightly displayed. She said Cassin then suggested van Gogh’s "Terrace at the Luxembourg Gardens" because of its central location on the south wall.
"Prior to its hang in ‘Clark Remix,’ this painting was in the corner of a long gallery, which made discussing it with a group difficult," Goodin said. "’Remix’ continues to invite new ways of experiencing the Clark’s collection, sometimes by simply giving a more prominent place to a work of art."
Goodin said she particularly liked the painting’s unexpected aesthetic, in that when people think "van Gogh" they probably call to mind paintings such as "Starry Night" or a still life of sunflowers. Instead, this landscape of a Parisian park, painted with an Impressionist palette and brushwork reminiscent of Claude Monet or Berthe Morisot, is not typically expected from van Gogh.
"Several gallery visitors in the past have stopped me to comment that this can’t possibly be a van Gogh, but I assure them, it is," Goodin said. "’Terrace in the Luxembourg Gardens" is a pretty landscape, with clear, bright light, populated by men and women promenading or sitting in a manicured space. It doesn’t reveal the uncertainty of van Gogh’s personal circumstances. Looking retrospectively at van Gogh’s career, this painting, in its style and subject, reveals an artist searching for a way to express himself."
Popular with the public
Beginning in 2000, "Looking at Lunchtime" has grown into a Clark mainstay and is held monthly, often on the second Thursday. Clark manager of public relations Sally Majewski acknowledged the talk series is popular with the public, with a core group of locals enjoying repeat visits mixed in with interested and curious visitors.
"Looking at Lunchtime is a great way to learn a lot about a single object," Majewski said. "The talks last about 20 minutes with a lively question and answer period. We look forward to Michael Cassin’s presentation on Léopold Boilly’s trompe l’oeil ‘Various Objects’ on April 11."
For her part, Goodin explained the pathos behind what has made "Looking at Lunchtime" one of the Clark’s most enduring public art educational programs among visitors.
"I want them to enjoy the experience of looking closely at one work of art, especially one that doesn’t conform to the popular notion of the artist," she said. "I hope also to convey a broader understanding of how van Gogh became van Gogh. His experiences of Paris, the art he saw, the people he met, the places he painted, were crucial to his development as a painter."
Looking at Lunchtime talks are held at the Clark on the second Thursday of the month at 12:30 p.m. Talks are free November through May (when no admission fee is charged).
Talks are free with paid gallery admission June through October.
The Clark is located at 225 South St. For more info: clarkart.edu, 413-458-2303.