WILLIAMSTOWN -- Japanese architect Tadao Ando has designed a score of award winning structures, both in his homeland, and overseas. One of his most involved projects to date is the ongoing $180 million new construction expansion at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Speaking recently at the Clark through interpreter and fellow architect Kulapat Yantrasast, Ando noted the importance of the Clark assignment as one where man and nature can seamlessly co-exist in aesthetic terms.
"In all, I’ve spent a decade working on the Clark project, and it has been very fruitful," Ando said. "Art has a very positive role in our lives. As we live longer it is the mental and cultural element that replenishes our soul and refines our sensibilities. I’m hoping through involvement with the Clark to bring about such enrichment to others."
Why nature matters
The project includes a visitor center, several exhibition spaces, and a conference center. It will also free up space in the Manton Research Center, which now serves all these functions, while not originally designed to do so. The target opening date is in July 2014.
The expansion’s visual centerpiece will be a large reflecting pool with traversing walkways. In winter, the water will be allowed to freeze and an outdoor skating rink will be available to the public.
Ando, who also designed the Clark’s newest exhibition space, Stone Hill Center, said the art institution’s Berkshires venue is the perfect location to attempt a fusing of the natural world with the man-made.
"The Clark is placed in the middle of nature, which offers us a unique opportunity in the design aesthetic," Ando said. "When you walk around here you get to experience space unlike that in cities. Here you can think and reflect and refresh your sensibilities. Nature has a lot to do with that"
This, Ando added, challenges the design to complement the Clark’s backdrop of four distinct seasons. The goal is to be a magnet, drawing people here from places where they can’t get that type of full cycle complement from nature.
"This project will help give the Clark’s art worldwide exposure," he said.
Art imitates life
The Clark’s director, Michael Conforti, concurred with Ando in assessing the quality and nature of the Clark’s permanent collection, and a desire to increase its visibility.
"There’s no question that one of our greatest goals is to get more people to come here," Conforti said following Ando’s talk. "Over the next three years, we are taking some very fine pieces from our permanent collection to 12 sites around the world. When you link that level of art to what this new campus experience will be like, the Clark could become one of those ‘1000 places to see before you die.’"
Communications director Victoria Saltzman saw the impact of the Clark’s world tour during a recent stay in Madrid.
"From my own hotel window there, I saw a two-hour long line form to get into the Prado to see our works," Saltzman said.
The return of the Clark traveling show, she added, will coincide with the opening of the campus expansion and lead to a major reinstallation of the works in new exhibition spaces.
"Our curatorial team, led by senior curator Richard Rand, has already begun visualizing the new galleries before they are even complete," Saltzman said. "While serious work, they are having a lot of fun in the creative process of picturing how to display 73 returning world-class pieces in fresh and innovative ways."
All of this will be made possible by Ando’s vision, now about halfway complete and clearly still at the stage of rising concrete and steel. The Japanese architect, who is known for his use of natural light to help define nature, and who has been totally self-taught in architecture, summed up his work to date at the Clark with the hope of the unexpected.
"As humans, we like to experience things we have not done before, so we also want this sense of newness at the Clark," he said. "For us to live a long and meaningful life, art is critical, and the Clark will offer one of the most unique experiences in such a setting."
For more info: Call 413-458-2303 or clarkart.edu.