WILLIAMSTOWN -- Two hundred years ago, Ito Jakuchu painted cherry blossom so fine a brush-stroke forms a petal. A hundred years ago, Georgia O'Keeffe painted a Jack-in-the-pulpit with embers in its hood.
Fifty years ago, Juan Muñoz smelted bronze sculpture in Spain. He would have been college age as Spain emerged from Franco's devastating rule, just as Pablo Picasso died.
This year El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor living and working in Nigeria, sends a show of monumental, glinting mosaics to the Brooklyn Museum, 110 years after the impressionist Camille Pissarro died in France. Pissarro, a native Virgin Islander, learned a love of shimmering pointilist colors in his new country.
And in the last five years, these artists have made contact.
They have met at the Clark Art Institute. While the Clark has undergone a massive renovation and expansion, its newest space has given it vital energy.
As the Clark prepares to open a 42,500-square-foot visitor and exhibition center in 2014, to expand the original building by 2,300 square feet and renovate the research library, the museum will celebrate the five-year anniversary of the Stone Hill Center on Saturday.
The renovations will take 10 years in all. In the last five years the renovations have reached the main galleries, and their space has shifted and condensed, while the Clark's curators have made plans for the new space when it comes.
The Stone Hill Center has given them a way to test it.
These two small galleries with high windows offer a new pallette to program, said senior curator Richard Rand. Tadao Ando's open design and flexible space have given the curators a place to be imaginative.
They have brought 20th- and 21st-century artists here -- works of contemporary art that fit the space and the architecture.
In the center, they can experiment with ways to develop the new space, agreed David Breslin, associate director of research and academic programs, and associate curator for contemporary projects.
The space is open enough to install large-scale works, yet it retains intimacy, as though in the frame of one body, he said. People walking into the building can have a simple and deep conversation with the work.
He found it powerful to look out at Juan Muñoz bronze sculptures on the terrace, and to look in at El Anatsui's red and gold tapestries of foil and bottle caps. Seeing them from outside on a fall day, he said, he felt immersed in color.
As the Clark's campus expands, the curators may explore the larger outdoor space between the buildings, either by populating it with art or by allowing it to be art. The Stone Hill center has opened all 140 acres of the campus, Rand said, bridging streams and extending the road so that the center is accessible and surrounded by trails.
There's something powerful about walking in the trails a world apart from the galleries, Breslin said, and then coming onto the galleries around a corner.
To come to the Clark expecting the swift color of impressionists, and to find a sun-dappled wall of West African tapestry, is "a surprise for people, but a happy surprise," he said
The Stone Hill Center has evolved closely focused projects with well-known living artists.
Breslin and Rand wanted to explore contemporary art that fits the Clark, given that Mass MoCA and the Williams College Museum of Art are already exploring contemporary art in their own ways.
"We learned Clark can do contemporary art programs," Rand said. "We can be more edgy, exciting and here-and-now without transforming the expectations" people bring to the museum.
"People come to the Clark expecting a certain kind of exhibit," he explained, of high quality art and focused, intense interpretation.
Breslin defined as the emerging style as "smart, historically sensitive work that is beautiful."
Contemporary art may lean toward skill with a material, or toward a bodiless idea, he suggested. To find strong craft and a strong idea together is rare.
The Stone Hill Center's shows have expanded naturally around Sterling Clark's 18th- and 19th-century interests, Rand said. Clark appreciated a wide range of art. He traveled in China and studied Arabic. And while he collected work from a generation or two before him, his brother collected Matisse and Picasso. When Clark and his wife established the museu, Rand said, they set no restrictions on it. They allowed for growth and change.
Over the next five years, Breslin looks forward to making new places to experiment at the Clark, with living artists and commissioned artwork.
He likes to stand on the balcony above the library and look out over the construction.
"It's like having a time-lapse camera in the brain," he said.
He hopes the new spaces will continue to allow for happy surprises. To encourage serendipitous moments. To make intuitive connections.
Rand said, "We are expanding the perameters of what we can do."
If you go ...
What: Celebration of Stone Hill center's fifth anniversary
When: Saturday. Cookout on the lawn, 3:30 p.m. Build a fairy house in the woods. Free admission to Kidspace@the Clark.
Where: Clark Art Institute,
225 South St., Williamstown