A wealth of history is open to the public at Stanford University’s Visual Arts Center
The Santa Clara
November 2, 2017
Thirty minutes from Santa Clara’s campus, the entire world is at our disposal. In the Northwest corner of Stanford University’s campus lies the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts.
Since 1894, this small labyrinth of hallways has provided Stanford students, as well as any visitors, the opportunity to glimpse a world beyond their own. Admission to the museum is entirely free— as if its rich history wasn’t impressive enough.
The Arts Center is tucked behind a garden overrun with the contorted, writhing bronze human bodies sculpted by French artist Auguste Rodin. These languid figures hauntingly usher visitors inside. The eerie entrance ends in the atrium of the building when all visitors come eye to eye with a bronze copy Rodin’s world-renowned piece, “The Thinker.” To the left of the atrium lies a vast array of African artwork. These pieces, coming from a broad stretch of time periods, tell a varied story of Africa’s history. The “In Dialogue: African Arts” exhibit—which is as visually demanding and moving as it is varied—delves deep into the multifarious artistic traditions of the continent. According to the Cantor’s website, this exhibit “represents the vibrant and dynamic arts of the continent and its diasporas.”
Past the “In Dialogue” exhibit, the museum has three more rooms dedicated entirely to the work of Rodin. From clenched hands, to snarling faces, to entire bodies thrashing with hurried motion, Rodin’s work is most commonly found in the form of bronze figures—casts of originals.
The Cantor, however, is lucky enough to house works by Rodin in multiple mediums, thereby exhibiting his fiercely dynamic range in depicting the human figure.
On the other side of the building, the museum displays a gallery dedicated entirely to art from Oceania. This exhibit pays homage to the beautiful art of the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Ranging from sculptures of deities to earthenware bells, these pieces tell stories of tradition, aesthetic values and respect for nature.
The most impactful collection at the museum, however, is the Asian Art galleries. The Cantor website describes the size of this exhibit, saying, “With over 5,000 objects, the collection’s strength lies in its Chinese and Japanese holdings, with 2,300 and 1,400 works, respectively.”
The first room in the series is titled “Ancient and Religious Works.” It is littered with Chinese cooking vessels (dings), wine vessels, Buddha figures and other icons from faiths all across Asia. The pieces are arranged to illustrate contrasts between the techniques of different time periods, as well as the dynamic history of foreign religious influences.
Past the room of religious pieces, the following hall is divided in two parts. The first is a collection called “Earthly Hollows: Cave and Kiln Transformations.” This section of the room illustrates the fascination with the mystery of caves in Asian Art. This display is paired with an in-depth look at pottery around the 18th century. While based on divergent mediums, what ties these styles together is the reverence for clay and earthenware in its most untamed, refined form.
The second half of this room is known as “The Buddha’s World.” As this name suggests, the handful of works on display have to do with all things Buddha. Buddhist tradition is largely based in visual storytelling. For this reason, Buddhism conjures to mind the image of Buddhas, rather than any tales vital to the history of the religion.
The museum’s website touches on the breadth of pieces in this room in stating, “This exhibition showcases Buddhist manuscripts and prints held at the Cantor and in Stanford libraries, ranging in dates from around the 11th century to the early 20th century, and coming from various parts of the traditional Buddhist world, from Sri Lanka to Japan.”
Lastly, the Asian exhibit dedicates an entire room in this wing to the rich history of jade sculpture in Asia. This medium is perhaps the most archetypal one in all of Asian history, specifically Chinese history. The pieces are carved from two types of jade, known as Nephrite and Jadeite. The works are ones of all sizes, from small trinkets, to large ritual vessels. The fine craftsmanship in each part of the collection illustrates the reverence for the material in Chinese culture.
Sampling from artistic traditions all over the planet, each room in the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts is a small vignette into new cultures and perspectives.
Contact Noah Sonnenburg at email@example.com or call (408) 554- 4852.