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The Berkshires’ Best Art Museums

David Cicconi Berkshires' new art

Photo: David Cicconi

We’ve asked the Clark’s director, Michael Conforti, to walk us through the center, 12,000 square feet of conservation work space and two glass-walled galleries. Ando’s design pulls the outdoors in as a companion to the exhibitions. When winter’s first snow appears, these rooms, currently filled with Sargents and Homers, must be even more beautiful.

A walk down the hill brings us to the original museum, a glowing white-marble temple that momentarily takes you out of rural Williamstown and puts you in Athens. Architect Daniel Perry designed the Neoclassical building, which was completed in 1955. Its scholarly collection of masterpieces set a new standard for museums in the area. To me, the Clark is for reconnecting with an old friend—the museum owns one of only five Piero della Francescas in the United States (the other four are in New York City’s Frick Collection): Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels (circa 1460–70). Surely the most explicit depiction of the wonderment of motherhood I’ve ever seen, it draws me back here again and again.

Especially after communing with Ando, Charles Moore’s 1980’s postmodern overhaul of the Williams College Museum of Art looks dated and fussy to me now—but it did put this small liberal-arts college on the global art map. At the entrance stands Eyes (2001), massive gray marble slabs with round, watchful eyes perched on top, by phenomenal Paris-born sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who recently turned 97. Carol and I both know where we’re going: straight to Edward Hopper’s Morning in a City (1944), one of our favorites here. A nude female peers out of an open bedroom window, the front of her bathed in sunlight, her back cast in shadows, with somber shades of greens and blues in the background. As in most of his oil paintings, Hopper’s enigmatic way with light keeps a viewer rapt and respectful before the most ordinary of scenes. It is a standout in a collection known for its contemporary art.

Day 4: Williamstown to North Adams

Just 10 minutes southeast down Route 2 leads us to MASS MoCA, where we’ve decided to try another hotel. The retro-chic Porches, 47 rooms in a row of restored Victorian-era workhouses, is just across the street. The hotel could be in any tony New England town, but down the road there are empty warehouses with shattered windows, shuttered shops, and almost no one in sight—signs of the economic depression the once-industrial area is slowly recovering from. Like the Guggenheim was for Bilbao, Spain, MASS MoCA has been a catalyst for change in this community. The museum itself is a village in miniature spread over 13 acres, with 26 buildings dedicated to art, music, dance, film, and theater—not to mention one of the best museum restaurants I have ever visited, Café Latino. We have lunch there before our art immersion—the chorizo empanaditas and fried-fish tacos are as good as any New York restaurant’s, and the modern décor is just as sophisticated: hand-stenciled turquoise walls, cork floors, and a backlit bar.

A series of gigantic red-brick warehouses (this was a textile mill in the early 20th century) make up this one-of-a-kind cultural center that in nine short years has become New England’s most innovative art space. I’m in awe of its sheer size as we traverse miles of raw gallery space flooded with light, one room the size of a football field. Carol mentions that what Sol had thought was missing in the United States was a museum dedicated to installations. MASS MoCA certainly fills this vacuum; no other institution can showcase exhibits of such immense proportions. This is the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the country.

When the exhibition was being arranged by Jock Reynolds, director of Yale University’s Art Gallery, and Joseph Thompson, director of MASS MoCA, Carol and Sol visited the 27,000-square-foot former mill building where it would be housed. “I watched him climb up and down ladders to develop his plan for the installation, studying the light, the placements of the drawings,” she says. Now she was seeing his vision become reality. Everything has been built to LeWitt’s specifications, including new interior walls and windows to flood the space with natural light. More than 50 drafters were hired by the museum to put this nearly one-acre retrospective together, and most have been working since April to prepare for the November 16 opening.

MASS MoCA will keep LeWitt’s retrospective on view here for the next 25 years. At first, it seems incongruous to me that one of the most important contemporary masters in the world would be enshrined in a corner of the Berkshire hills. But given the scale and magnitude of the exhibition—and the growing artistic movement in this part of New England—it seems a most fitting memorial. For the next quarter-century, this remote area will become a site for all who love the work of Sol LeWitt, and art itself.

Gabriella De Ferrari is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure and a writer and art historian based in New York City.

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