Summer at the Clark: A banquet for the eyes

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — “It looks like a map of the U.S.,” the woman in the gallery said.

“And those are the ‘oceans,’” she continued, pointing to the thin horizontal swashes of blue paint on both ends of the 21-foot-long canvas. The dark green at the top represents “Canada,” she told us.

On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon in July, there were about 20 visitors gathered near “Off White Square,” a 1973 acrylic painting by Helen Frankenthaler.

Abstract impressionism at the Clark Art Institute? Isn’t this the museum famed for its Renoir, Degas, Homer and John Singer Sargent?

“As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings” is the current exhibit at the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, the Clark’s mountain-view gallery for contemporary art, and we were on a guided tour, one of three or four offered daily in various galleries during July and August.

Our guide, Leah Rosenfeld, wasn’t just telling us about the tension between abstract and representational art in these 12 large-scale Frankenthaler works, she encouraged us to share our thoughts about each painting.

And so we did.

With its 10-year expansion project in the rearview mirror, the Clark’s multiple art spaces now offer visitors not just one big show to savor but a sumptuous banquet.

On a fair summer day, more than 1,200 people may show up at the museum, but there is always room for solitude amid the 140 acres of meadow, forest and mountain. On this day, the Adirondack chairs at the edge of the rock-strewn pond were all occupied and two women were sitting along the pond’s edge, dipping their bare feet in the cool water.

This summer, the main attraction is “Picasso: Encounters,” an exhibit the Wall Street Journal says is “a splendid sampler of the range of Picasso’s genius as a printmaker.” According to Galerie magazine, the show is “singlehandedly worth a trip to the Berkshires.”

The 35 Picassos, including his seminal “Self-Portrait” from his Blue Period, hang on the first floor of the Clark Center. One floor below, you’ll see “Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design,” an opulent exhibit of furniture, paintings, ceramic and textiles that looks at the works of Tadema (1836-1912) and his design of a music room for the New York mansion of Henry Gurdon Marquand, a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There’s also another Frankenthaler exhibit, “No Rules: Frankenthaler Woodcuts” in the newly remodeled Manton Research…

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