With gas prices soaring and air travel not so much fun anymore, now might be the time to consider cultural offerings closer to home. The Stanford campus is home to two world-class museums and if COVID-19 has kept you from visiting them lately, you might be pleasantly surprised by the varied and thought-provoking exhibits currently on display. A recent visit to both the Anderson Collection and the Cantor Arts Center revealed both old favorites and new acquisitions that offer something for all ages and tastes.
Start at the Anderson Collection, a bespoke museum that houses the extraordinary collection of the late Harry W. “Hunk” and Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson. The result of a mutually beneficial relationship between the local couple and the university, the Anderson holds a world-renowned collection of post-WWII American art that once graced the halls of the Saga Corporation (Harry Anderson was the one of the founders) and later the Quadrus office complex on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park. For those unfamiliar with the background of this collection and how it came to Stanford, it’s worth popping into the comfortably appointed library. Here, the Andersons’ private library of art books (used to help with their collection) and a video interview with the couple can be found. The second floor is where the initial 2014 donation of 121 paintings and sculptures, as well as more recent acquisitions, are installed.
The museum was closed for a period in 2021 while building maintenance was undertaken; it was also an opportunity to completely reinstall the permanent collection. Instead of a didactic arrangement of rooms grouping objects by theme (California Funk, Bay Area Figuration, Abstract Expressionism, etc.), the current installation is a delightful juxtaposition of similar and dissimilar works of art.
In other words, this placement is more reflective of how the Andersons lived with art in their home. Large-scale abstract paintings cohabited comfortably with English antiques and sculptures by Californian artists like Robert Arneson and David Gilhooly. Yes, one of Jackson Pollock’s most famous “drip period” examples, “Lucifer,” is still in the larger gallery, but it’s now been joined by more recent gifts from the Andersons and others. “Totem Lesson I” (also by Pollock) and “Gansevoort Street” by Willem de Kooning were donated by Mary Margaret. Anderson before his death. Another important gift from Anderson was prints and a magnificent marble bust, “Makida III” by Manuel Neri. These and more contemporary works like Mary Weatherford’s 2017 ‘Black Painting’, which has a strip of neon tubes across the surface of the canvas, ensure that the museum remains a dynamic learning experience, no matter the frequency of visits.
While it’s always great to see something new, it’s also fun to see familiar works in new places. The bright and optimistic painting, “Le Beaubourg” by Sam Francis, was once hidden in the hallway on the lower level. Today visible upstairs, it sits on a main wall. Not far away is a special group of works by Stanford alumnus Richard Diebenkorn. The Andersons were good friends with the artist and the works here reflect his ability to capture light and landscape in an innovative and abstract way. “Ocean Park #60” is beautiful, blue and tranquil – perhaps like the Southern California neighborhood that inspired it. This painting alone is worth the detour.
Back on the ground floor in the temporary exhibition gallery, “American Progress,” a thought-provoking exhibition of prints and sculptures by Wendy Red Star, discusses the impact of westward expansion on the indigenous peoples and the environment.
Leaving this small but outstanding museum, one cannot help but be impressed by the Andersons’ insight and foresight as art collectors – and how lucky we are that this important collection did not end up elsewhere.
When walking next to the Cantor, which is a much larger, encyclopedic museum, it’s a good idea to grab a map and lay out a route for a visit. The permanent collection consists of everything from African art and artifacts to European paintings to contemporary works, so seeing it all can take hours. I focused on the temporary exhibits currently on display and found something to keep searching and thinking about.
For those looking for a historical base for the museum, the “Melancholy Museum” exhibit offers a wonderful orientation to how Jane Stanford wanted to pay lasting tribute to her son, Leland Jr., himself an antique collector in grass. In this exhibition there are three death masks of Jane, Leland and their son which are a fascinating, if macabre, starting point before walking around the corner to see the recently opened exhibition “The Faces of Ruth Asawa “. Unlike death masks, these faces of friends, family and colleagues are happy tributes. Made of ceramic and in shades of brown, beige, yellow and white, the faces are, for the most part, smiling. The museum acquired 233 of the masks, which were created over a period of three decades. Asawa, known primarily for her twisted wire sculptures, made the masks as a way to capture faces in time.
A new exhibition of works from the Marmor Collection focuses on the use of black and white in prints and features works by renowned artists Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly, Bruce Nauman and Sam Francis. The original giveaway of 200 prints, most of them made at the prestigious Gemini GEL studio in Los Angeles, aimed to highlight “the importance of paper as a medium”. Nearby are several new museum acquisitions: “Country City” and “Large Sucker” by Sacramento native Wayne Thiebaud. They are bright, beautifully rendered, and reflect two of the artist’s favorite subjects, the dizzying streets of San Francisco and mouth-watering food.
Upstairs, put on your glasses to admire the small, meticulously embroidered portraits sewn by LJ Roberts. They are an incredibly detailed tribute to the artist’s friends in New York’s queer and trans community. Presented in transparent plexiglass frames, it is possible to see the back of each piece and marvel at the time (up to a year each) and the care taken in their creation.
Visitors who have worked up an appetite on this hike through the museum can stop by a new addition to the Cantor, Tootsie’s Café on the lower level of the museum. Opened barely five months ago, it offers seasonal salads, sandwiches and pasta. Or, those who may have brought lunch can take a bench outside and enjoy one of the museum’s best-known features: an extensive collection of bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin. The individual rooms are located at ground level, while the inspiring and monumental “Gates of Hell” have their own special platform.
There are two other notable stops outside that visitors will want to catch: the serpentine sandstone sculpture by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy is now part of the mainland of the nearby arboretum. Just steps away, a brand new addition to the campus public art scene is a work by sculptor Beverly Pepper. Comprised of four 40-foot-tall steel columns that serve as a sentinel of Stanford’s Arts District, the “Stanford Columns” are bold, awe-inspiring, and encourage visitors to stroll and marvel at the plethora of experiences arts right on our doorstep. .
The Anderson Collection and Cantor Arts Center are free to the public with advance reservations. For the Cantor Arts Center, visit museum.stanford.edu and for the Anderson Collection, visit anderson.stanford.edu.