i'd never even heard of the clark until drew mentioned it. the museum (opened in 1955) was founded by a wealthy art collecting couple. story has it that they built it in the "middle of nowhere" for fear of their priceless artworks getting destroyed in the event of a nuclear war targeting urban centers. their collection (primarily american and european paintings ranging from the renaissance to late 1800's) is surprisingly impressive, featuring many famous masterpieces.
unfortunately most of their best works (73 in all) - basically the whole reason why anyone would ever go to the clark art institute in the first place - was on a 3 year worldwide tour beginning in march 2011 (milan, giverny, barcelona, fort worth, london, montreal, tokyo, kobe). drew was obviously disappointed when he found out the bad news thursday night, and i thought maybe he'd want to cancel our trip (which was fine with me), but with nearby Mass MoCA (with a canadian exhibit) and the williams college art museum, there was still reasons to go.
the clark art institute opens at 10:00 and it takes more than 3 hours to drive there via route 2. so i proposed we leave around 6:00, maybe get to the museum a bit early, have some time to walk the grounds. however drew thought that was too early and suggested we leave at 7:30 instead.
after sleeping about 4 hours, i woke up at 6:30 to use the bathroom and make some breakfast; i didn't want to be driving all those hours on an empty stomach. it would be a cold day, with temperature barely above freezing, so i dressed warmly.
i'm familiar with route 2, having traveled it frequently on my motorcycle to various naturing destinations. the farthest i've ever gone on route 2 was to fitchburg. in a car, the farthest west on route 2 was to interstate 91 to get to vermont. after passing the interstate, it would almost another 50 miles until we got to williamstown, traveling on the mohawk trail, winding our way through curvy single-lane mountain paths.
we passed the confusingly-named town of harvard, "furniture capital of new england" gardner, funnily-named athol (sounds like someone saying "asshole" with a lisp), across the french king bridge, caught a glimpse of the gill-montague bridge, the town of florida, the surprisingly thickly-settled north adams, and the golden eagle restaurant at the dangerous hairpin turn on the mohawk trail.
the only time we stopped was at whitcomb summit, the highest point on the mohawk trail, in the town of florida, on hoosac mountain, with an elevation of 2272 feet. there looked to be a motel (closed?), an observation tower, and a statue of an elk (1923, dedicated to te elk's club since eastern elks were hunted to extinction back in 1877).
we arrived at the clark art institute at around 10:30. what they didn't mention on their website was they're also going through some major renovation work (probably to coincide with their most famous collection going on tour for 3 years), so we didn't even set foot in the main museum. instead, we were in the manton research center next door, with 3 galleries' worth of art.
while drew went to go find the museum director, i went browsing. during the off-season, the clark is free to the general public. i did have to pick up a museum pin. the kind old lady behind the counter probably thought i came from abroad, because she asked me for my zip code or country. she also gave me a map of williams college and told me how to get to the college art museum. finally, she let me borrow an audio guide device free of charge.
drew came and found me shortly afterwards. we chatted with a woman who was one of the doyennes of the museum, after she overheard drew loudly complaining about the awful placement of some of the paintings (like one that was hung above a doorway and could barely be seen with the glare from a badly placed spotlight).
the clark had a few lawrence alma-tadema paintings, a british artist (1826-1912) that i wasn't familiar with but i liked his stuff. he even did some product design, creating a stylized grand piano using expensive materials like ebony, juniper, ivory, and morther-of-pearl.
the 2nd floor featured an exhibit detailing the ongoing museum renovations. on the 3rd floor was the third and last gallery which held the clark remix, a "special" exhibit displaying artworks that didn't go on the worldwide tour. paintings were arranged in a "salon-style" which meant as many paintings crammed onto the wallspaces as possible. with not enough room for descriptive placards, paintings were assigned numbers, and a handful of rubberized pc tablets (didn't recognize the brand) were made available to look up the pertinent information.
advertised as a special exhibit with more than 400 objects, what they don't tell you about the clark remix is that only 80 are paintings, while the bulk of the rest (300+) are decorative art objects which means things like plates and silverware that most people don't find as interesting.
there was also a smaller exhibit called giselle's remix, with objects selected by an 11-year old girl from new york city using the online uCurate program. it contained certain items that would appeal to little girls, like a painting of a dog and a pink tea set.
we finally left the clark around 1:00. since drew wanted to see Mass MoCA (in the neighboring town of north adams), i suggested we go there next. but he also wanted to check out the williams college campus, so we made a stop there first, parking in front of the school's art museum.
originally we weren't even going to bother seeing the art museum because we figured it was too small. so we wandered the campus seeing the architecture. we ended up entering their art history building from the rear, which was also where the museum was. seeing that it was free, we decided to take a quick peek. we ended up not leaving there until 2:30.
at that point we had a decision to make. drew was hungry and wanted to get something to eat first. i was looking at the time, and with Mass MoCA closing at 5:00, we had about 2 hours maximum to browse. drew wanted to primarily see the canadian exhibit, but since this was a museum we had to pay admission ($15), i wanted to get my money's worth. so we decided to forgo eating food for the time being but consuming more art instead.
i first heard about MASS MoCA more than a decade ago, when paula told me it was worth visiting. we'd already seen it from the highway when we went through north adams earlier. of course the town itself was just as interesting, if not more so. it's jarring to see such a populated area suddenly appear after seeing so much emptiness. of course the architecture reveals its storied history as a prosperous mill town situated in the valley surrounded by mountains, fed by numerous streams. finding the museum again wasn't difficult: as what is perhaps the few tourist attractions in the area, town planners made sure signs conveniently direct you to MASS MoCA. the name of the museum sounds funny, like the name of an italian drink.
admission into the museum was $15. drew tried to get a discount with his university id but it didn't work. besides the canadian exhibit, there was also one called "invisible cities" and a sol lewitt showcase (lewitt seems to have taken over the whole area, as there was also lewitt exhibit at the williams museum).
random exteriors and interiors:
since the museum is spaced in a retrofitted mill warehouse, the building itself is just as interesting, with various details revealing its formerly industrial past.
sol lewitt exhibit (ongoing until 2033):
i'm not a fan of modern (contemporary) art. having said that, i ended up taking more photos at MoCA than any of the other museums. hate it, love it, modern art is provocative, and therefore more interesting, especially if there's a wide variety. things i like: the noctural kinetic sculputres of knight of infinite resignation, the chrome office space of vanitas, loveland, beaded killer virii, and neon faces. i'm glad that i came, now i know what the MoCA is all about.
leaving the museum, there was only one thing on our minds: food! it wasn't difficult to spot the familiar golden arches of mcdonald's. in the dark, in an unfamiliar town, it took me a while to navigate to said establishment. drew ended up treating me to a spicy chicken combo meal. he himself had a big mac.
properly sated, we left for home around 5:30. getting our bearing wasn't hard once we were heading in the right direction, which was due east on route 2. traveling through the mountains on one lane highways was a bit challenging, especially given how dark it was. having a car in front of me made it easier because i could follow the red tail lights; but when i was the car in the front, i had no choice but to turn on my high beams because everything was pitch black, the road melding into the sky in a seamless swath of nothingness. i was struck with an urge to turn off my light just to see how scary it was, but resisted the temptation (i also didn't want to drive off the cliff).
we made it back to cambridge pretty much in 3 hours. we went to the hess gas station to fill the tank (drew paid), approximately $40 for more than half the tank.