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Art In The Berkshires: The New Clark In Williamstown, The Unexplored Hopper In Stockbridge

The Clark Art Institute's new entrance and reflecting pool. (Tucker Bair)

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — What a remix.

For years the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, with its magnificent collection of 19th century art (among other goodies) has felt like a bastion against the world outside its gates, a step back in time to the glories of Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and the French Impressionists. (After that it was no Modernists need apply for the ultraconservative Mr. Clark.)

The thoroughly modern new museum isn’t a refutation of the old one, though. The architects don’t drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, even if not everyone wants to come along. It’s way too Zen for any such temperamental demonstrations.

But if the old Clark closed its doors to the world, the new one embraces it ecstatically. Of course, it helps if the world outside your doors includes the majestic mountains of the Berkshires and the Taconic range along with the Green Mountains. If the vision from the old building was, “Oh, yeah, we’re in the Berkshires,” that of the new one is “OH MY GOD! WE’RE IN THE BERKSHIRES.”

The Lunder Center at Stone Hill, Clark Art Museum. (Flickr/Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism)

The Lunder Center at Stone Hill, Clark Art Museum. (Flickr/Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism)

The new entrance takes you to Tadao Ando’s new Clark Center, as open to the landscape as a Frank Lloyd Wright building. It’s such a “Sunday in the Park” scene, without the pointillism, that you’re reluctant to go in. Reed Hilderbrand of Cambridge did the landscape architecture, including a one-acre reflecting pool bordering the buildings.

The Clark Art Institute's new entrance. (Tucker Bair)

The Clark Art Institute’s new entrance. (Tucker Bair)

View from the gift shop. (Ed Siegel)

View from the gift shop. (Ed Siegel)

Beyond that is a more democratic use of the grounds, with upgrades to the two miles of walking paths, populated the day I was there by joggers and dog walkers along with hikers and strollers. Chairs and benches by the pool area were there for picnickers or anyone wanting to take in the vistavision.

Indoors, the new West Pavilion housed “Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum,” a cafeteria and gift shop, but another exhibit there, “Make it New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950-1975” isn’t opening until Aug 2.

Make it new? Abstraction? The second half of the 20th century? Jackson Pollock? The new Clark is obviously open to Modernism, not that there weren’t any post-Impressionist or post-post-Impressionist shows before. I didn’t leave enough time to get to “Raw Colors: The Circles of David Smith” a shuttle ride or a half-mile walk from the new center at the Lunder Center at Stone Hill.

Winslow Homer's paintings at the entrance of the Clark Art Institute permanent collection. (Courtesy)

Winslow Homer’s paintings at the entrance of the Clark Art Institute permanent collection. (Courtesy)

There’s an addition of 13,000 square feet of gallery space (and 1,000 trees outside), according to the press material. The main thrust, though, is still the permanent collection. The Museum Building next door to the pavilion thrusts you immediately into Winslow Homer’s dramatic narratives, which segue smoothly into Inness, the Impressionists, Sargent et al.

The Impressionist gallery at the Clark Art Institue.  (Courtesy)

The Impressionist gallery at the Clark Art Institue. (Courtesy)

The Impressionists’ room is still the most dramatic at the Clark, in a room that fittingly recalls the Musée d’Orsay in Paris with its glass-ceilinged brightness, all but demanding that extra attention be paid to Messieurs Monet, Renoir and Rodin. You should allot more than the two hours or so it took to see the old Clark.

Does the new layout make you see the art any differently? Subliminally, perhaps. The new museum provides a more robust, energetic experience and the work of Homer, Remington, Sargent et al feel like part of that robustness. It’s still very much a museum, of course, and almost by definition it’s set apart.

But in the same way that the Berkshires feel like the perfect nexus between art and nature, the Clark does, too, and the artists inside feel less removed from the world outside.

Hopper at the Rockwell

Sterling Clark, who hated democracy about as much as he hated modern art according to many accounts, would have had no use for either Norman Rockwell or Edward Hopper. But these two very different chroniclers of the American century are joined at the hip in Stockbridge, home of the Rockwell Museum.

Edward Hopper (1882 1967). Don Quixote, (1906 1907). Watercolor, pen, brush and ink, and graphite pencil on paper, Sheet: 21 9/16 x 13 5/8in. (54.8 x 34.6cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1346 © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art Digital Image © Whitney Museum of American Art

Edward Hopper (1882 1967). Don Quixote, (1906 1907). Watercolor, pen, brush and ink, and graphite pencil on paper, Sheet: 21 9/16 x 13 5/8in. (54.8 x 34.6cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1346 © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art Digital Image © Whitney Museum of American Art

Before Hopper became the great artist of 20th century narrative painting he tried his hand at illustrating, mostly for economic reasons. He hated it as much as Rockwell loved it, and he wasn’t any too fond of Rockwell, either. You can all but sense his ambivalence in “The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator” in Stockbridge. If you didn’t know it was Hopper, it might not seem like that big a deal.

But it is Hopper. And anything by him makes you take a second look — at the wistful “Boy and Moon,” the proud “Don Quixote,” the romantic if unlikely-to-thrive lovers of “Night on the El Train,” the mysterious dinner companions of “(In a Restaurant).”

The more you look the more of a story or psychological profile he creates. Or that you can create. Don Quixote isn’t the senile buffoon he’s often pictured as. Even when you can’t see the face of the woman on the el train or other Hopper artworks, you can sense the complexities of her choices, just by the way they hold their bodies. The magazine illustrations tell stories as well. Some of the Morse Dial covers seem like a precursor to his more populated, exterior paintings.

Edward Hopper (1882 1967). (In a Restaurant), (c. 1916 1925). Charcoal on paper, Sheet: 26 11/16 x 21 5/8in. (67.8 x 54.9cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1449 © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art Digital Image © Whitney Museum of American Art

Edward Hopper (1882 1967). (In a Restaurant), (c. 1916 1925). Charcoal on paper, Sheet: 26 11/16 x 21 5/8in. (67.8 x 54.9cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1449 © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art Digital Image © Whitney Museum of American Art

Hopper wasn’t as dramatic, and perhaps therefore not as effective, an illustrator as Rockwell, but he was by far the greater artist. Rockwell evokes a small-town America that really never was, though many of us would like to think it did. Hopper, whether in these illustrations or in his later work, is telling us about the real world, and real emotions.

That isn’t to diminish Rockwell’s work or its home, which has grown on me over the years. This is a great summer to go there as some works on loan are returning to private collections and a Rockwell exhibit of works here will be going on the road as “American Chronicles, The Art of Norman Rockwell.”

Just be sure to give yourself some time for “The Unknown Hopper” and the insightful video by biographer Gail Levin that accompanies it.

Art Critic, Norman Rockwell, 1955 Oil on canvas, 39 ½" x 36 ¼" Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, April 16, 1955 Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, NRM.1998.4 ©1955 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

Art Critic, Norman Rockwell, 1955 Oil on canvas, 39 ½” x 36 ¼” Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, April 16, 1955 Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, NRM.1998.4 ©1955 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

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