The biggest news in the Bay Area art scene is the recent opening of the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. It is important because it contains over a hundred of the greatest paintings and sculpture by Americans in the last half of the 20th century, creating an invaluable resource for Stanford students and the local art community.
Harry W. "Hunk" and Mary Margaret "Moo" Anderson,
and their daughter, Mary Patricia "Putter" Anderson Pence
From the beginning they considered themselves custodians of a community treasure, and they made the collection available for study and loans to museums. They also gave a collection of 650 graphic works to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, displayed in a dedicated gallery at the de Young Museum, and an extensive Pop Art collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, also displayed in a permanent gallery there.
|The Entrance to the Anderson Collection|
Modest and retiring, almost hidden behind some of the grand old trees on campus, the two-story Anderson Gallery is light and elegant, and very well suited to the collection. The ground floor has guest services, a library, offices and the introductory film.
|The grand staircase|
|Clyfford Still, 1904-1980|
1957-J No. 1 (PH-142), 1957
The galleries have an open plan.
|Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956|
|Detail of 'Lucifer' showing tangled web of paint|
Pollock's work was so radical, that it opened new areas of exploration in painting. Here are a few more examples of the New York school of expressionism. Mark Rothko was concerned with using color relationships to create a deep and thoughtful mood.
|Mark Rothko, 1903-1970|
Pink and White over Red, 1957
The great teacher, Hans Hofmann, was interested in how color relationships create space; color can pull your vision into the depths or pop it to the surface.
|Hans Hofmann, 1880-1966|
Fall Euphony, 1959
|Willem de Kooning, 1904-1997|
Untitled V, 1986
|Louise Nevelson, 1899-1988|
Sky Garden, 1959-1964
|David Smith, 1906-1965|
Timeless Clock, 1957
|Sam Francis, 1923-1994|
The Beaubourg, 1977
|Richard Diebenkorn, 1922-1993|
Girl on the Beach, 1957
|David Park, 1911-1960|
Four Women, 1959
|Wayne Thiebaud, b. 1920|
Candy Counter, 1962
Another approach to art eschewed thickly applied paint and expressive brushwork, for flat surfaces and hard edges. These are grouped as Hard Edge paintings at the Anderson Gallery. Josef Albers' principal form was the square, which he painted in various color combinations.
|Josef Albers, 1888-1976|
Homage to the Square: Diffused, 1969
Al Held painted highly complex geometric abstractions. He is generally classed as an abstract expressionist, but his flat, hard style is the opposite of Pollock's or de Kooning's.
|Al Held, 1928-2005|
Inversion X, 1977
Pollock's idea of applying paint in non-traditional ways resonated with another school of painters, known as the Color Field school. Helen Frankenthaler is often credited as the originator of this movement; like Pollock, she poured paint directly on raw canvas, and created an interplay between spontaneity and control.
|Helen Frankenthaler, 1928-2011|
|Morris Louis, 1912-1962|
On the West Coast, concern for abstract values in art developed into the California Light and Space Movement, which manifested as sculpture. Many works played with light in such a way that they tended to disappear. Robert Irwin created a famous illusion with a disk and special lighting. Larry Bell created a glass box that blends with the setting.
|Robert Irwin, b. 1928|
|Larry Bell, b. 1939|
Glass Cube, 1984
|Bill Allan, b. 1936|
Half a Dam, 1971
|Robert Hudson, b. 1938|
Plumb Bob, 1982
|Scott Burton, 1939-1989|
Pair of Steel Chairs, 1987-1989
|Agnes Martin, 1912-2004|
Untitled #21, 1980
For me, the Contemporary group was the least interesting. This is a catchall category, with references to the other movements, and no unique approach or common characteristic. One of the best is Vija Celmins, who is rigorously intellectual while being tied to reality. I love her take on the night sky.
|Vija Celmins, b. 1938|
In the next image, contemporary painter Deborah Orapallo combined stunning use of color with the subject of magic and disappearance to create a powerful image.
|Deborah Orapallo, b. 1954|
Houdini Challenged, 1990
Although all these artists are considered Americans, it is worth noting that many of them came here from other countries. Josef Albers and Hans Hofmann came from Germany. Vija Celmins and Mark Rothko came from Latvia. Louise Nevelson was born in Ukraine. Willem de Kooning immigrated from the Netherlands. Agnes Martin came here from Canada. One of the advantages of a free democratic society is that it attracts artists trying to escape oppression. The result is that the Anderson collection has an international avant-garde quality.
I can't urge everyone to dash up to Stanford to enjoy this new art collection. There are no "pretty pictures" here—no nubile girls bathing, no sensitive portraits, no thrilling sunsets. A few works make ironic or comical commentary, but by and large this is pretty serious stuff—abstract, intellectual, theoretical, experimental. Mrs. Anderson referred to the Clyfford Still painting at the head of this article as "tough," incomparably "beautiful" but "tough." You could say the collection is mostly "art for art's sake," meaning that most of the works don't refer to life or the real world; most of them manipulate art values for their own sake. Instead of saying to himself, "I want to paint this great alpine scenery," for instance, an artist might say, "I want to see how red interacts with other colors," or "I wonder if an all-black painting could be meaningful, or an all-white one." Even when Diebenkorn or Park painted a pretty girl, they abstracted the figure into the overall design.
If you have the appropriate background, or if you are kind of tired of traditional, content-driven art, spending a couple of hours in this new museum is quite uplifting. It's refreshing to putter about in a world of abstractions, setting aside your routine worries. The simplicity and concentration of most of the works has a meditative effect, if you're up for that.
For teachers and students of art, the Anderson Collection is an invaluable record of the main trends in art in the second half of the twentieth century. All of us in the Bay Area can be proud of this new asset.