Features & Columns

The Anderson Collection at Stanford

Stanford's recently opened Anderson Collection offers a look
at icons of modern American art.
Anderson Collection OPEN ENVIRONMENT: The airy architecture of the new Anderson Collection building at Stanford University showcases works by many well-known artists—and there's no admission charge to view the artworks.

Lucifer has risen at Stanford University. That is, Lucifer, the celebrated 1947 Jackson Pollock painting now hangs against a white background. It sits opposite Mark Rothko's Pink and White Over Red, completed 10 years later.

Both together constitute just two of 121 works by 86 artists in the Anderson Collection at Stanford, located in a brand new building just north of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. Designed by Richard Olcott, the building exists solely to house the Anderson Collection of iconic post-WWII American Art, mostly painting and sculpture. Admission is free, allowing anyone to wander in and experience works previously seen only in textbooks.

Legendary art collectors, Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson—or "Hunk" and "Moo" as the couple are commonly known—have resided locally for over 50 years. This particular collection forms the bulk of their contemporary works, many of which were located in their Atherton home. Originally from back east, the two were never Stanford students, but after half a century of developing relationships, the Andersons have been integral components of the art professor-student-dealer-collector nexus for half a century. Their daughter, Mary Patricia (AKA "Putter"), also contributed to the collection.

Their massive gift happened entirely due to recent initiatives at Stanford, schemes to further the required arts education of every single student in every major. Someone, somewhere, on that campus finally realized that teaching everyone how to be creative helps the entire world in the long run. As a result, a holy trinity of three new buildings is underway. The Bing Concert Hall opened at the beginning of 2013. The Anderson Collection at Stanford is now the second new structure, with the McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History scheduled to rise from the earth next fall. All three will exist in the vicinity of the Cantor Arts Center, and people are already referring to that area of campus as the Stanford Arts District. Studio art majors will now get to mingle with the art history students and everyone will be able to more easily incorporate the Cantor Center exhibits and the Anderson Collection in their studies and research. Imagine taking an art history class and walking across the grass to see works by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella or Franz Kline—all of which are included in the Anderson Collection.

Inside the building, the collection exists upstairs, but downstairs one finds the Wisch Family Gallery, which currently has a photography exhibit, Peaceful Presence: Leo Holub and the Artist Portrait Project. Visitors can see portraits of 55 of the artists whose work exists upstairs.

For the opening reception, I slithered like a serpent into a sea of more distinguished-looking media types. It was obvious that the building and the collection were designed to complement one another. The natural lighting is what stands out first and foremost. A long, open staircase ascends, ever so slowly, toward the collection upstairs. Lighting from the upstairs windows envelops the entire open-air environment, providing a playful way for anyone to experience the collection. The natural lighting also floods the entire lobby as soon as anyone enters. The building exudes a contemporary air, but still dovetails with the more classical architecture of the Cantor Center next door. All of which was intentional, and at the reception, architect Richard Olcott stood on the stairway and explained the details for all to hear. The natural light, as it seeps into the scene, is key, he said. It makes sense. I mean, wasn't Lucifer the light bringer?

The Andersons themselves also attended the reception, explaining that their gift was one that will keep on giving. Students for generations will take advantage of this assemblage of iconic modern pieces. Again, the open-air, naturally-lit environs drive home the idea, at least for me, that this is a collection accessible to anyone. There are no crazy, over-the-top experimental pieces. You don't need to be schooled in stuffy academic artspeak. You can be as Luciferian as you want. And it's free. Just bring money for parking.

With Rodin's Gates of Hell already a common stop for busloads of tourists outside in the garden, and with the Cantor Center's current show, "Sympathy for the Devil: Satan, Sin, and the Underworld," currently rocking out nearby, Pollock's Lucifer completes the trifecta of transgression. Were I a Milton scholar, I would have grown horns and quoted passages out loud.