In 1952 construction began on the original white marble building that was to house the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. After a lengthy search process, Sterling Clark chose Daniel Perry as architect. Clark himself became highly involved in the Institute’s creation, even living in a small apartment in the back galleries of the museum when he and Francine arrived for stays in Williamstown. His desire for domestic gallery spaces is clearly manifest in the ultimate design, which includes small and intimate galleries with many large windows that provide views of the nearby pond and pastures.
In 1955 the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute opened its doors under the guidance of its first director, former silver dealer Peter Guille. There were only two galleries on view, and the majority of the works were not displayed. The Clark slowly unveiled its treasures during several exhibitions in the coming years. However, from the beginning the Clark received critical acclaim. It was heralded in the Berkshire Evening Eagle as “a mecca of the art world” and celebrated as a “cultural asset” for Berkshire County as well as a resource for the Williams College community. The Boston Sunday Globe also praised its incredibly modern and innovative lighting and climate control systems. Even with such high praise and expectations none could have imagined what the Institute would become in the next half-century.
Selldorf Architects' thoughtful renovation of the Museum Building included dividing the corridor—which previously separated the galleries overlooking Schow Pond from the central galleries—into a sequence of intimate spaces. The rectangular plan of the former entry lobby and side spaces was turned into a square sculpture court, allowing the flanking spaces to grow in size and become elegant rectangular galleries for porcelain and other decorative arts, displayed in cabinets designed by Selldorf.
Offices and restrooms were reconfigured into gallery spaces, allowing the entire first floor of the Museum Building to be dedicated to art. Selldorf worked closely with the Clark’s curatorial team on the selection of wall colors and finishes for the reinstalled galleries and created elegant new casework and vitrines for the decorative arts collection, along with custom-designed furniture. In keeping with Sterling Clark’s tastes when he oversaw construction of the original building, side windows and skylights still bathe the artwork in natural light and also offer visitors pastoral views of the surrounding landscape. New environmental systems and lighting work together to bring the building to the highest museum standards.