The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University – A Hidden Treasure

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By Jeryl Moy

Located just steps from the main quad of Stanford University, the Cantor Arts Center is a  unique treasure I consider to be more than an art museum. With its approximately 40,000  works of art spanning 5,000 years of artistic creativity, it is home to some of the most  fascinating art in the world. The extensive variety of media highlighted, genres represented,  and cultures included are what distinguish Cantor from other art museums. That it is free to the  public is a bonus that surprises and delights the many visitors who come from all over the  globe. The artwork transcends language and cultural differences. If smiles are an indication of  mood, visitors are in a good mood at Cantor. Even the security guards are smiling and helpful  as they encourage people to enjoy the works of art. This is a museum in which you feel  welcome. 

Rehmus Family Gallery, Cantor Arts Center. Photo credit Andrew Brodhead

Cantor is known worldwide for its vast collection of authentic Rodin sculptures. This collection of approximately 200 works is one of the largest in the world. “The Gates of Hell” and “The  Burghers of Calais” are two of the most famous sculptures housed in three galleries as well as  the outdoor courtyard. “The Thinker” is the sole occupant of the museum’s rotunda. Few  people leave without posing for a picture with this amazing larger-than-life sculpture. You can spend hours studying the intricacies of these sculptures, but to help visitors understand these  works, Cantor’s gallery includes a video that explains the complex process used to make them.  

Auguste Rodin (France, 1840–1917), The Three Large Shades (Les Grandes Ombres), 1902–1904, cast 1979–1980. Bronze. Gift of the B. Gerald Cantor Collection,1992.158Grandes Ombres), 1902–1904, cast 1979–1980. Bronze. Gift of the B. Gerald Cantor Collection, 1992.158

The museum’s two floors are comprised of individual galleries, each with a unique theme.  There are rooms of Asian art, some of which date back to 3,000 BC. Other galleries highlight  Oceanic Art, African art, Indigenous American art, and European art. There are rooms  dedicated to photography, videos, prints, installations, paintings, and contemporary art  incorporating various media. I made the mistake during my first visit of trying to see everything  in a couple of hours. I learned that these galleries each deserve that much time. It’s a good  thing admission is free, because there’s so much to explore. I find myself returning often to see new exhibitions and study the permanent exhibits in more depth. One of the security guards  told me they think of Cantor like a candy store for grownups. There’s so much to enjoy, and it’s  all fantastic. I would add that Cantor has works of art that are of great interest to children of all ages, too.  

Tour of the exhibition The Melancholy Museum: Love, Death and Mourning at Stanford with the painting Palo Alto Spring in the background

Young visitors are especially interested in the gallery comprised of more than 100 objects  collected by Leland Stanford Jr., in whose memory the university was founded. Highlights of  the exhibit include replicas of world renown Tiffany diamonds given to Leland Jr. by Tiffany and  Co. This gallery gives you an idea of what was of interest to a young boy in the 1870’s. Toys,  bugs, knickknacks, tools, etc. are on display at eye level with children who can compare these  objects with what they collect and own today. The gallery is full of drawers that can be opened  by visitors to get a better view of what’s inside.  

Vairocana Buddha installed at the Cantor Arts Center. Photo credit Andrew Brodhead

Not to be missed are the unique works of art outside of the actual museum building. Richard  Serra’s massive steel sculpture is set in one courtyard. It is a must-experience interactive  installation. Rodin sculptures seem to come to life in a second courtyard, and the sculptures of  Faith and Menander flank the front entrance. Each panel of the massive front doors is a work  of art commissioned by Jane Stanford to highlight architectural wonders from around the  globe. If you miss these on your way in, you will want to check them out as you leave. 

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), The Gates of Hell (La Porte de l’Enfer), 1880– c.1900, cast 1981. Bronze. Gift of the B. Gerald Cantor Collection, 1985.86

Though visits to the museum are free, membership in the museum makes you feel like you are  part of something important. At a time when funding for art education is being cut in the  schools, helping to keep Cantor open to all visitors free of charge is a great way to ensure that  art appreciation will continue to grow in the next generation. Membership includes several very  special perks as well. Members are invited to special events, such as exhibition opening  celebrations, behind the scenes tours, curator-led talks, Art and Wine evenings, the annual Jazz at The Gates cocktail party, and more. The membership is actually a joint membership  with the Anderson Collection, the museum next door to Cantor, worthy of its own review here.  Members also enjoy reciprocal benefits to over 1,000 North American museums and a variety  of discounts. As with visiting the museum, becoming a member is a great way to find a  community of people of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in art, creativity, and  learning. I have to emphasize that this is truly a museum that makes visitors feel welcome. You  can find more information about their collections as well as hours of operation and upcoming  exhibits at their website.

The Buddha Shakyamuni installed at the Cantor Arts Center. Photo credit Andrew Brodhead

Photo: Courtesy of The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University


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