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Object Lessons: Art & Its Histories

Object Lessons: Art & Its Histories

Portrait of Sally Fairchild

John Singer Sargent (U.S.A., 1856–1925), Portrait of Sally Fairchild, 1884-1887.  Oil on canvas.  Gift of Dr. Herbert and Elizabeth Sussman, David and Valerie Rucker, Dr. Stephen Sussman and Kelly Watson, Eric and Nancy Sussman, and Dean and Chiara Sussman, 2012.1

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University is delighted to announce the most significant reinstallation of the museum’s second floor in more than fifteen years. Culminating this fall with the opening of five separate galleries that have been re-envisioned as spaces for investigation by the university community and the public alike, this project is born of sustained collaboration between Stanford faculty and museum curators, who together have thought seriously about the tremendous value of learning about art objects through firsthand study.

At Stanford, the arts and sciences comingle productively: In classrooms, labs, studios, and offices across campus, pioneering thinkers—in the sciences and technology, as well as in the arts and humanities—are proposing innovative takes on historical phenomena and advancing new understandings of the human condition. Drawing inspiration from and building on this energy, the museum is proud to foster engaging encounters with works of art that reveal fresh insights on the world around us and the experiences and expressions that bind past and present.

Alison Gass, the Cantor’s former chief curator and associate director for exhibitions and collections, said that the museum’s interdisciplinary approach will be on full view in Object Lessons: Art & Its Histories, Highlights from the Marmor Collection and a series of focused exhibitions titled New to the Cantor. “Steeped in the awareness that all art objects were once contemporary and reflect the context of their creation, these presentations are dedicated to the examination of artworks as revelatory primary sources,” Gass explained. “Across the museum, familiar favorites and never-before-seen objects promise to provoke new discussions

Object Lessons: Art & Its Histories
Spanning the history of Western art from antiquity to the mid-20th century, the first iteration of Object Lessons: Art & Its Histories embodies our belief in the power of close looking and demonstrates the museum’s deep commitment to academic engagement and teaching through objects. The exhibition is organized around the curriculum of Introduction to the Visual Arts, a two-part survey course led by professors Bissera Pentcheva and Alexander Nemerov, who will convene weekly sections in the museum’s galleries. Building on their expertise and teaching priorities (along with those of additional faculty members, Nancy K. Troy and Jody Maxmin), the exhibition’s layout and interpretive texts reflect a combination of faculty ideas and those of Cantor curators, demonstrating the benefits of bringing multiple voices and approaches to thinking about art. Object Lessons invites all museum visitors to be part of a great classroom, in which questions and dialogue are welcome and there is freedom to challenge assumptions about the world in which we live.

The gallery for early European art presents antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome, plus a selection of European religious paintings and sculpture dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Highlights include a focused installation titled Hidden Elements: Two Greek Vases Reveal Their Stories, based on new research directed by the Cantor’s Art + Science Learning Lab. The display uses digital interactive stations to explore findings generated by conservators, Stanford students, and materials scientists in consultation with Professor Jody Maxmin, a specialist in the arts of the Classical world. The Robert Mondavi Family Gallery, meanwhile, showcases European paintings from the Cantor’s permanent collection dating from the late-16th century to the late-19th century.

Continuing the chronological progression of Object Lessons, the Marie Stauffer Sigall Gallery features paintings, sculptures and works on paper created between the late-19th and the mid-20th centuries. The installation explores the ways in which modernists working in Europe and the United States employed traditional subject matter—landscapes, cityscapes, still lifes and portraits—in their campaigns to create radical new modes of picture making in the modern age. Professor Nancy K. Troy, an expert in European and American Modernism, has been a vital partner in developing this section of Object Lessons, and key works on view will be studied in her graduate seminar Cubism: Theory, Practice, History and undergraduate lecture course Modernism and Modernity.

This reinstallation of the Cantor’s major galleries, developed in close partnership with the Stanford faculty, celebrates the museum’s commitment to thinking critically about art objects and pushing at the boundaries of what is possible at a 21st-century university art museum. The revitalized museum galleries are open both physically—offering long sightlines that elucidate visual and thematic connections across the history of art—and intellectually, allowing space within the galleries for teaching and talking. The new constellation of objects on view sparks fresh discoveries within the museum’s collection while also better elaborating the multiple histories that can be told through the museum’s holdings.

This exhibition is organized by the Cantor Arts Center and is presented in conjunction with the course Art 1: Introduction to the Visual Arts. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Theodore and Frances Geballe Pre-19th Century Art Exhibition Fund, the Clumeck Endowment Fund, and the Loughlin Family Exhibition Fund.

Modern and Contemporary Gallery Reinstallation

With Object Lessons: Art & Its Histories, the Cantor offers a new vision of the history of Western art through the mid-20th century. The reinstallation of the modern and contemporary galleries likewise prompted reexamination, as we asked ourselves what place the art of today should hold in a teaching museum dedicated to considering and reconsidering the canon of art history. Great contemporary art often builds on questions that have engaged artists for centuries. As a university art museum with an encyclopedic collection, the Cantor is an ideal place to situate contemporary art in relation to past works and to examine how art historical trajectories continue into the present day. Positioning contemporary art practices in relation to their historical precedents makes contemporary art feel grounded and powerfully vital, revealing it as a potent means of considering the world around us and our conceptions of ourselves in our particular moment.

Highlights from the Marmor Collection

The Marmor Collection’s rich and varied compilation of more than 200 paintings, sculptures and works on paper by leading 20th-century artists has greatly enhanced the Cantor’s ability to examine the complex narratives of Western art from the 1950s to the present. The Cantor is delighted to present its largest installation to date of works from this expansive collection. The works in this exhibition—ranging from photography to prints to mixed-media assemblages—highlight new modes of art making that took root after World War II.

New to the Cantor

New to the Cantor presents recent projects by artists who have never before been exhibited at the museum. Featured works share the potential to extend and nuance the art historical narratives that the Cantor can share with its audiences. The first presentation, anchored by a major installation by San Francisco–based artist Barry McGee, expands upon the museum’s terrific holdings of post-World War II Bay Area art, providing a glimpse into more recent artistic practices with ties to the region. Other artists in the show, like Stanford alumna Tauba Auerbach, explore connections between art and science and the shifting terrain of art in the digital age, themes that intersect with core areas of academic inquiry at Stanford. 

New to the Cantor: Spencer Finch

Spencer Finch investigates the intersection between lived visual experience and scientific research. In works like Betelgeuse, he uses a colorimeter—a device that measures the intensity of color—to record light seen in the natural world and replicate its hue and luminosity in sculptural form. In doing so, Finch not only examines how we see but also probes questions about memory, time and perception. A monumental light sculpture, Betelgeuse’s form evokes an explosive celestial object and emits the same light reading as its eponymous star—the second brightest in the Orion constellation.

This exhibition is organized by the Cantor Arts Center and is presented in conjunction with the course Art 1: Introduction to the Visual Arts. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Theodore and Frances Geballe Pre-19th Century Art Exhibition Fund, the Clumeck Endowment Fund, and the Loughlin Family Exhibition Fund.

Museum Hours

Monday: 11AM–5PM
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: 11AM–5PM
Thursday: 11AM–8PM
Friday-Sunday: 11AM–5PM

Map and Directions

The Cantor Arts Center is located at the intersection of Museum Way and Lomita Drive in the heart of the arts district on the Stanford campus. The Cantor faces the Bing Concert Hall across Palm Drive, northwest of The Oval and the Main Quad.

328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060

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Parking is limited. Visitor parking is available on Lomita Drive and in a nearby parking structure at Roth Way and Campus Drive. On weekdays until 4PM visitors may use marked, metered spots. On weekdays after 4PM and all day on weekends, visitor parking is free and visitors may also use A and C permit spaces.

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