By Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and curator of Spaces: Photographs by Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth
There’s nothing quite like a set of “before” and “after” photos to tell a story. As curator of the Spaces show, it is a rare treat to be able to work with a room like this (we call it Gallery 2) for an installation of large-scale photographs.
This room has a special history in the annals of the Clark. As the central space of the original white marble building, it is usually filled with natural light and populated with paintings by Renoir, Monet, and Morisot, sculptures by nineteenth-century artists, Francine Clark’s piano, and a sumptuous carpet. But, with many of our French paintings currently on an international tour, this room was recently emptied of its usual contents.
What to do? Close it down? Lock the doors? How about using the room for an installation of contemporary art?
We decided on the latter, specifically to juxtapose the work of Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth. Their photographs are all about absence and presence and, much like the Clark’s dual mission, they often focus on the experience of the museum visitor and the contemplative atmosphere of libraries and research centers.
Featuring Höfer and Struth’s work in this historic space at the Clark is a provocative pairing. Gone are the furnishings, the walls are freshly painted, the spacing is generous, and two benches designed by Tadao Ando take the place of Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
I hope you will come see for yourself the before and after of Gallery 2. It was just as much fun to conceptualize this transformation “before” as it is to see the final product “after.”