Distinguished panel revisits the Clark to report on the state of the arts


WILLIAMSTOWN -- A few heavy hitters in today's art museum world have roots in the Berkshires and Williams College diplomas, and on Saturday they came home to report on a field they say is healthier than ever and evolving rapidly.

"Art's been around for 35,000 years plus; museums have been around for a couple hundred," Michael Govan, CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said at the Clark Art Institute. "Museums are a frame, a vehicle, a structure to provide access -- they will continue to change as art and culture changes. One of the greatest changes is globalism, or localism, however you may want to define it. There's a larger world involved. We have a much greater awareness of the creativity around the globe and also the localities."

Govan was joined by National Gallery of Art Director Earl A. Powell III and Museum of Modern Art, New York, Director Glen D. Lowry in a panel discussion in the museum's auditorium. All three men graduated Williams College.

The larger picture in the art world affects the very notion of "quality," Govan continued, identifying the present moment as one of "nervousness" and promise for he and his colleagues, as the public continues to show greater interest in art than ever before.

"We must be inclusive," Govan said. "The past and the present interact in a world where identities coexist -- very different cultural identities, different criteria for living, for quality, for aesthetics -- you almost need art, because art is the great embodiment of the multiculturalism of our world."

The panel unanimously agreed that the digital age has only enhanced people's desires to see great works in person.

"Our audiences have continued to grow," Powell said.

The Clark itself is just wrapping up a 10-year renovation and expansion project.

Another thing that's grown is the value of collections and the commodification of art -- to an almost unbelievable degree.

"It's crazy; we look at the markets and wonder when it's going to stop," Powell said, citing a national gallery sculpture that grew in value from $10 million to $106 million in two years based on recent auctions.

Something the panel wanted to see grow were the number of students going into the field.

"I spend a lot of time counseling parents that it's OK for their kids to study art history," Govan said. "In fact there are a lot of jobs."

The event coincided with the opening of a fittingly titled new exhibition, "Make It New: Abstract Painting From the National Gallery of Art: 1950-1975," featuring the work of Joan Mitchell, Jo Baer and Lee Bontecou, Jackson Pollock, Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas and Cy Twombly.

Organized by Harry Cooper, curator of modern art at the National Gallery in Washing-ton, D. C., in collaboration with David Breslin, associate director of contemporary projects at the Clark, the exhibit features 35 paintings through Oct. 13.

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