Clark Center's Japanese art on its way to Minneapolis

Hanford museum's deal will help keep its legacy alive, patriarch says

The Fresno BeeJune 4, 2013 

Since 1995, the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford has provided world-class exhibitions both for Valley residents and visitors from all over the world. 

Now there are major changes in store for the small institution.

Willard "Bill" Clark and Elizabeth "Libby" Clark are giving the center's entire collection to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the museum announced Tuesday. Nearly 1,700 priceless objects spanning a period of 10 centuries, with an estimated value of $25 million, will be sent to Minnesota. Along with the center's collection, the Clarks offered their private collection in an arrangement that is part gift and part purchase.

While this might sound like a blow to the Valley's cultural arts scene, visitors to the Clark Center actually won't notice any difference at all, at least in the short term, Bill Clark said Tuesday.

For at least five years, the center in Hanford -- tucked in a picturesque agricultural setting in the fold of the Clarks' expansive almond acreage south of town -- will remain open, including its impressive bonsai garden. It will feature rotating exhibitions of works from the Clarks' collection that will make the trip back to California.

"There will be a very warm relationship between the two museums," Clark said.

Andreas Marks, the director and curator in Hanford for the past five years, is moving to Minneapolis to become head of the museum's Department of Japanese and Korean Art. He will continue to curate the Clark Center exhibitions.

"The only change is that the storage area will have less material," Marks said of the Hanford location. "But that's not where the public is anyhow."

Yoko Ueno, a current Clark staff member, has been named the center's new director. The membership program, currently numbering between 600 and 700 members, will continue.

Obtaining the Clark collection is a coup for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which will expand its collection of Japanese objects by roughly a third with the acquisition. The museum has 15 galleries dedicated to Japanese art alone.

"We've had a commitment to Asian art since our founding," said Kaywin Feldman, director and president of the Minneapolis museum.

The acquisition nudges the museum into the Top 5 in the nation in terms of Japanese art, both Clark and Marks say. It joins such top-notch institutions as Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian Institution's Freer and Sackler galleries, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Feldman, a former director of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, was a key player in the acquisition. She got to know the Clarks during her tenure in Fresno.

For Bill Clark, who started collecting Japanese art in earnest during the late 1970s, sending off his collection to Minnesota is bittersweet.

"My heart is in the Valley," he said. "I'm fifth generation. But I have to be realistic. There isn't enough population in the Valley to support the museum."

He and his wife have always subsidized the center. But they're both in their 80s, and they don't want to pass that burden along to their children. Plus, there's the concern about the expense of preserving the often fragile artworks.

"MIA has the funding to continue to do what we were struggling with," he said. "It seemed like the best possible solution to the needs."

The center's current exhibition, "Genji's World in Japanese Woodblock Prints," runs through July 27.

A special highlights exhibition, "The Audacious Eye: Japanese Art from the Clark Collections," will open in October in Minneapolis. The Clarks will be the guests of honor at the opening.

If you go

What: Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture

Where: 15770 10th Ave., Hanford (about 6 miles south of Highway 198)

Hours: 1-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays

Admission: $5, $3 students with ID, free for ages 12 and younger, Fresno State students and members

Details: (559) 582-4915, ccjac.org

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee.com or @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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