By Harry Montgomery
Photos by Harry Montgomery
The Prado’s naughty nudes–“Porn Fit for Spanish Kings” said the NY Times—stimulated hordes of summer visitors to the Clark Art Institute. All have now moved on. The Manton Research Center at the Clark will not officially reopen until November 11. But, courtesy of Assistant Librarian Karen Bucky, I got my new Library Readers Card in the mail. It’s good for visits, even during off hours. I visited there in mid-October.
The Clark’s fine art library, integral to its teaching vocation, was a major factor for me when I relocated to Williamstown in 1999. And I used its books and proprietary electronic data bases until it closed down to visitors in 2014. Returning there in October was a homecoming for me. Happily, I got in on the ground floor. Manton’s new reading and display space were evident, along with locations designated for book sales and a somewhat iffy coffee bar. The auditorium is expected to reopen in November, hopefully bringing back free classic movies as well as affordable opera simulcasts.
The actual library is little changed after a closure of almost two years. Here, on the south side of the Clark, no new staircases to navigate such as one needs to visit the cavernous new galleries of the main museum.
Head Librarian Susan Roeper was welcoming. For me, all is forgiven.
I am both a townie and an alum of the Clark’s elder sibling institution, Williams College. Way back, as you’ll recall—around the time of my graduation—Sterling and Francine Clark, collectors of French impressionist art, calculated that Stalin’s Soviet bombers would see nothing worth nuking around Williamstown. As in the new games theory for asymmetrical conflicts, David drew strength from his weakness in the face of Goliath. Williamstown was the winner when the Clarks’ museum opened in 1955.
While frustratingly slow for some, the expansion of the Clark has impressed all, especially the fraternity of museum curators heavily populated with Williams grads. So has the Clark’s hiring of Tadao Ando, an autodidact architect. Without ever studying that trade, he designed buildings with aesthetically pleasing profiles, honoring their natural settings in a manner especially prized by the space-cramped Japanese. But there is an underside to designing museums from the outside in. For instance, visitors of a certain age are not comfortable with open stairs.
My summary view of the Clark’s make-over and expansion is that a fine regional museum has been gifted to the world. However, despite strong educational programs reaching out to New England towns via programs such as school bus reimbursement, this gift was made in part at the expense of local supporters and the Clark’s hometown. Up until now. My new Readers Card is give-back to this one happy townie.