Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A visit to Stanford and the Cantor

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to visit Stanford University and see the Cantor Museum. This precedes my trip up north, and I thought I'd take a break from my irregularly scheduled programming to post about it. Stanford, if you have to ask, is a gorgeous campus. The picture above is their church, which is designed in a mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine styles, and executed in way that feels authentic rather than imitative.

The Cantor has a small but impressive collection. For instance, it was my first time ever seeing a Duane Hanson sculpture in real life.

It was positively creepy - I keep seeing the figure out of the corner of my eye and thinking there was a real person there, even after I'd read the label and with knowing who the heck Hanson was to begin with!

Get a load of the details:

Another artist I had heard of, but never experienced their work outside of photographs was Richard Serra.

I'd never been too impressed with him from photographs (C'mon, big steel things! I'm over Big/Overwhelming=Good Artist). But I'll grant that actually walking through a Serra changed my mind. Due to the tilted nature of the walls, you have to be cognizant of space, otherwise you'll hit your head.

Which I'm sure was his intention - to make the viewer uncomfortable.

However, I also found myself intrigued with the labyrinthine nature while inside it.

In front of the Cantor was their newest - installation? Acquisition? Not sure. A work by Andy Goldsworthy.

I usually love Goldsworthy, but this piece felt lacking. On one level, its winding nature speaks to the Serra a few hundred feet (and behind a high wall) away.

I wasn't sure how I felt about it being sunken. I walked down into the piece and around it, and it didn't seem to add to the piece at all.

In fact, I like the piece better in these pictures than I did when I was actually there - I'm not sure what that means. It felt to me that this piece, in this arid, sandy environment needed to engage the landscape more - like there should have been water rushing through it, and the reason for the wall's curves was to guide the water. On the Cantor's website, it states, "Set in a trough in the earth, the sculpture gives the appearance of an archaeological excavation. Over time, the land around the work will return to its natural state and animals will settle into the site. The stone has traveled full circle: quarried initially for Stanford University buildings, it now returns to the earth in another form."

I like that idea, so...maybe I'll like the piece more later.

I know I've chosen to write here about three white guys, and the museum, like many, is pretty white-guy heavy. In deference to this, I'll say I really enjoyed the exhibition of contemporary Chinese Art - particularly the Xu Bing - but out of respect for works on paper I didn't take any pictures. The collection of Native American art - both historic and contemporary, is pretty impressive and I was glad I got to see that as well. There were also statements posted by Stanford students reflecting on the work for visitors to read, which contained some pretty insightful and eye-opening revelations. It seemed to also emphasize that university museums like the Cantor really do belong to the students, as much as their libraries and classrooms should.

The Cantor has free admission, you don't have to be part of the Stanford community to go see it, and I recommend it!

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