Several years ago, when the Clark Art Institute's Stone Hill Center was in its nascent stages, senior curator Richard Rand was chatting up some fine sculpture while I scribbled down his wisdom. At one point, Rand placed his hands on the figure and my gulp could be heard throughout the gallery. Without breaking stride in his soliloquy, Rand interjected: "Don't worry, I'm a curator; I can do anything."
And so just this past week, I pulled out my smart phone for a daily swing at social media. Almost instantly I lost my breath again. There was Rand, and in his hands a piece of the Early Renaissance came to life: a sacred painting by Piero della Francesca (c.1415-1492).
The scene could have been anything from reverential to amusing. I chose to find the middle ground, having covered the Clark beat for numerous regional news outlets for nearly a decade. Rand, who came to the Clark in 1997 from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and who holds a PhD in art history from the University of Michigan, hopefully approves of my middle ground.
That's because some of my most enjoyable moments as a journalist have been walking the galleries in this Williamstown treasure with one of its gems. As such, I've learned the best times to interview Rand are when his mind is running at overflow capacity, often during the last stages of a show's installation. The quotes he gives me then are chock-full of visions, vignettes,
Part of this has to do with the breadth of Rand's foundation - dynamic bedrock, if you will. He's a rolling stone for the arts, gathering no moss in promoting the Clark as well as enhancing its permanent collection.
Europe, Asia: you name it, he's either been there, or leaving tomorrow. All this is while Rand continues to enrich his own scholarship and interpretation of the exhibitions with which the Clark graces us. After all, being knighted by the French government, as Rand was in 2011, doesn't happen to just anyone.
To be sure, with all the time I've spent at the Clark, I've had the great fortune to work with many curators, past and present. All deserve a salute for being patient with me, and Rand wouldn't want it any other way.
They include: Marc Simpson, (now running the Williams College art history graduate program), Kathy Morris, Jay Clarke ("the girl with the boy's name," she jokes), Sarah Lees and up-and-coming Sarah Hammond ("the two Sarahs," their colleagues smile), Richard Kendall, Jim Ganz (now at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), and perhaps the most rollicking interviewee of all: Cody Hartley (now at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts).
That this talent pool exists in an outpost such as Williamstown is as unique to the art world as the presence of an institute of the Clark's stature in the very same place. And in the middle of it all is Rand, part ringmaster, part big brother, and part whipping post - but always with outward calm to the public and deft handling of the press.
Of course, all work places have their ups and downs, and everyone has moments when they're not - to put it kindly - in favor. I'll leave that evaluation to Rand's peers. But the man who has made a life of art lets it run through his veins like grand opera. And as a writer whose favorite subjects are culture and the arts, Rand is as accommodating, welcoming, and genuine as it gets.
By way of example, Rand recently forgot to call me on an upcoming exhibition, and then left for Europe, all while my deadline loomed. When he realized our missed chat, Rand emailed me from Rome - or was it Paris? -- with full written answers to all my questions - and countless mea culpas.
Such self-effacement from a professional of Rand's ilk isn't easy to find, but it's a welcome reminder of the back and forth nature of any future gallery walks with him. Because at any moment, the Clark's senior curator Richard Rand can flash that boyish smile while dancing a waltz with yet one more masterpiece, and then upon seeing my breath held back, remind me who's boss.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.