“I started to cry a bit when I saw the finished result for the first time this morning,” said architect Annabelle Selldorf at the June 27 press preview of the newly expanded Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Michael Conforti, director of the Institute, also teared up as he addressed the crowd gathered to celebrate the reopening after 10 years and $145 million of time and funds were invested into reconstruction. Visitors might have similarly emotional reactions to the results, including Pritzker-winner Tadao Ando’s multipurpose visitor center, which prioritizes circulation and the views of lush hills behind the Clark; landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand’s stepped pools , which create a peaceful setting primed for meditation; and Selldorf’s redesign of the main museum building’s interior, which glorifies the Clark’s collection.
Though thorough and comprehensive, the Clark’s transformation is decidedly understated. The refrain “Bilbao of the Berkshires” was used time and again over the weekend to describe the project, but that phrase isn’t really accurate. The Guggenheim Bilbao is a monumental, sculptural showpiece that draws attention away from the cityscape unto itself; the new Clark pays homage to the surrounding landscape with understated architecture and interiors that frame views of the neighboring hillside and the art on view.