WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. — The ideal viewer of “Ground/work,” the outdoor sculpture at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., comes across the installations without knowing about them in advance. The surprise of seeing a shaped stone set in the trees, and the curiosity that rouses, would be a kind of honesty those of us who go looking for them can’t share.
Nevertheless, the sculptures have identifying plaques and the institute has published a map showing their locations. You have the opportunity of taking a scenic walk while reacting in your own way to the sculptures.
Although all are placed by the trails, the map shows no obvious touring route, as you might find inside a museum. So, again, rather than naïve wanderers, you’re tempted to seek out the most efficient trail combinations, with minimum backtracking, that includes all the exhibits. One follows — although viewers might prefer simply to wander, as a way of creating more surprise. The action, anyway, is on the joint Clark/town trails system on Stone Hill.
To get to the Clark, turn right off of Route 7 on South Street at the traffic circle in Williamstown, as the signs direct. Take the first Clark driveway, on the right. Note that there is no charge for walking the grounds. No limits on numbers or hours, although COVID-19 mask-wearing and social distancing are required. Dogs on leashes welcome. No hunting. The inside of the Clark is also free the first Sunday of the month.
After parking, follow the museum wall to the main entrance. Pass through doors that open regardless of the institute’s hours. After circumnavigating the pools, follow the road beside the building to the footbridge, the trailhead where trail maps are usually available. Now you are ready to embark on a 2-plus mile excursion, with an elevation gain of 250 feet.
After crossing the bridge, take the second left on the Nan Path. For its first outdoor art exhibit, the Clark invited six artists to respond to the sylvan landscape. The first of three “Migratory DMZ Birds” alighted on the right. Haegue Yang, a South Korean artist, articulates the shapes of bird species found in the Demilitarized Zone that divides her country.
Cross another bridge and turn right on the Pasture Trail. Shortly after passing through a gate into the field, Eva LeWitt’s three “Resin Towers” glow on the right. These translucent “totems” reflect the light and landscape that surrounds them.
Turn left on the Stone Bench Trail, where another “Migratory Bird” awaits you. Then turn left again on the Gate Walk before entering the woods. To your left rises Nairy Baghramian’s “Knee & Elbow,” or at least those gleaming marble and stainless-steel body parts. Their “release and renewal” intended, perhaps referring to the climb to get to them.
Now right on Stone Hill Road, once the main route to South County. Another “Migratory Bird” lurks in the woods to your left, just before the Stone Bench. Not part of this exhibit, the bench is an offering by town residents for their mistreatment during the First World War of a resident of German extraction.
Turn right on the Stone Bench Trail. Kelly Akashi’s “A Device to See the World Twice” is at the bend. This lens was designed to aim at a large tree, which subsequently fell.
Stay on the Stone Bench Trail, out of the woods through another gate, past a bird you saw before, and follow the Pasture Trail over the crest. The next exhibit, at the bottom of the hill, is Analia Saban’s “Teaching a Cow How to Draw.” Artistic in its own right, it also serves the practical purpose of containing the friendly cows that graze on the field.
You can follow the mowed path by the fence or return to the Pasture Trail. Your goal is the end of the wall, right, by the pools, where you will see and — if there’s a breeze —hear Jennie C. Jones’ “These Mournful Shores,” an aeolian harp, which is her response to two Winslow Homer paintings inside.
Biographies of the artists with comments on their intentions are available at the Clark website. As with all the sculptures, knowing a bit what the artist intended should not limit your reaction. Perhaps, however, their intentions amplify your reactions.
Happy trails to you.