The Melancholy Museum: Love, Death, and Mourning at Stanford
"What is exciting and interesting about the Cantor is that it has an origin story that is really clear and precise, where the pivot point is the tragic death of Leland Stanford Jr. His mother's reaction is 'I lost my child, the children of California will be my children, and I will build something to sustain them.'"
Mark Dion, Visual Artist
In the wake of Leland Stanford Jr.’s death at fifteen years-old, his parents founded both Leland Stanford Junior University and the Leland Stanford Junior Museum. When the latter was built, its grandeur and scale were rivaled only by its East Coast contemporaries—the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Through objects alone, Dion’s installation tells the story of how one family’s rush West to sell hardware to prospectors resulted in the accumulation of vast wealth and power.
The furniture, photographs, Native American objects, menus, and other artifacts of material life at the turn of the twentieth century that comprise the artwork show how the family upgraded its business interests to politics, the railroad, and a horse farm, and how those interests were enabled by land previously inhabited by the Ohlone people and the labor of Chinese and other immigrants.
The grand Victorian mourning cabinet, the heart of Dion’s work, demonstrates how one teenage boy’s death resulted not in the creation of the nation’s largest museum but in a museum where love, grief, and mourning are forever entwined, The Melancholy Museum.
Medium is the Message: Art Since 1950
Using works created since 1950, this exhibition explores the relationship between subject, content, and the materials that informed each object’s production.
Medium is the Message: Art Since 1950 is divided into three broad categories that explore the notion of “medium” in its various contexts: a means of communication, the materials from which an art object is created, and a mediating apparatus between objects and subjects.
The Cantor Arts Center proudly possesses one of the largest groups of bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin (France, 1840–1917) in an American museum, numbering almost 200 objects of both monumental and intimate scale.
Perhaps one of the best-known works of Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, was one of the first figures that Rodin conceived for the 1880 commission The Gates of Hell. This sculpture began as a symbolic depiction of Italian author Dante Alighieri and was originally named The Poet. Over time, Dante evolved into The Thinker, a freestanding work honoring the power of the human intellect.
The name The Thinker is credited to foundry workers who felt the sculpture bore a notable resemblance to Michelangelo's sculpture of Lorenzo de Medici called Il Penseroso. The scale and detail of this piece took nearly 40 years to complete, and is recognized today as one of the most iconic works of modern art.
Of The Thinker's evocative emotion of being lost deep in thought, Rodin explained, "What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes."
The Thinker is a critical piece in the Cantor Arts Center's impressive collection of Rodin works, assembled thanks to the close working relationship and friendship between Albert Elsen (1927–1995), the Stanford University curator, professor, and Rodin scholar, and B. Gerald Cantor (1916–1996), the American financier and philanthropist.
Mr. Cantor's initial gift of 89 works by Rodin to Stanford in 1974 became the largest ever gift of sculptures to a university art museum. His commitment to sharing art with the public and making it available for teaching purposes remains today.
Richard Diebenkorn at the Cantor
"All paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this expression abstract seems to me often to confuse the issue. Abstract means literally to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract... a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts."
This virtual tour explores the ongoing exhibition Richard Diebenkorn at the Cantor, an intimate and interactive installation that presents works by famed Bay Area artist and Stanford alumnus Richard Diebenkorn, ’49.
First an art student and later an artist-in-residence at Stanford, Diebenkorn always carried a sketchbook, often capturing what he saw before him, including landscapes and ﬁgures, mostly in graphite, and black and white.
The paintings and sketchbooks featured shed new light on the artist’s process, including his shift in style from ﬁguration to abstraction. Included in this virtual tour are Ocean Park #94 (1976), part of Diebenkorn's expansive Ocean Park Series; Window (1967), Disintegrating Pig (1950) and Buildings—Hill Background (1961).