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The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, with verdant outdoor vistas complementing the lush Impressionist landscapes in its galleries, has always had nature and culture on its side. Now it’s aiming for stature—not just in the rural Northern Berkshires, but internationally, while keeping its special allure as a rustic retreat. In this it has largely succeeded, thanks to a discreet addition and sensitive delicate restorations of its existing buildings and grounds that make them seem familiar yet greatly enhanced.
“We’re the Berkshire Bilbao,” the Clark’s director, Michael Conforti, repeatedly proclaimed during opening events for his museum’s thorough renovation and 42,600-square-foot expansion. While the new glass, concrete and stone Clark Center bears no resemblance to Frank Gehry’s flashy titanium tourist magnet, the elegant new pavilion designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando does boast an outdoor “wow” feature—a three-tiered, one-acre reflecting pool, jointly designed by Mr. Ando and landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand.
The pool is flanked by an expansive patio where anyone—not just admission-paying art lovers—can picnic at the Clark’s tables while contemplating the glistening water flowing over a bed of smooth stones (accompanied, during a recent visit, by the loud mating calls of tree frogs). The outdoor amenities are part of Mr. Conforti’s plan “to embrace the specialness of the landscape,” enticing out-of-town visitors, not just locals, to use the Clark’s 140 acres as a public park for hiking, cross-country skiing and just relaxing peacefully in an idyllic setting.