University art collections serve several communities. Their primary mission is to provide examples for students in art majors, but students in related fields such as history can benefit. My bias is that students in any major would grow their appreciation for their field… engineering, sciences, human and natural studies, commerce and politics… by understanding how artists have viewed images over the centuries. Secondary audiences for university art collections include residences of the nearby communities and travelers who are looking for a place to visit other than the major sites of the regions. That would include us, as we spent a couple of hours over at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center museum, while visiting with family in California.
You may recall that I wrote about the Rodin sculpture garden, outside the museum, back in February. And, a winter ago, I wrote about another art museum affiliated with the Rhode Island School of Design. On this trip, we had an afternoon free to wander a few of the rooms and two special exhibits. Even better than the location (15 minutes from my parents’ home), the museum is free to the public, so we did not feel pressured to “take it all in” with this visit. We will get back during future visits to the area.
One aspect that I enjoy with university art museums is the comprehensive survey display of their collection. Most of this level of museum are smaller in size than the major metropolis museums, in which I could pitch a tent and live for two weeks before concluding that I had seen most of what floats my boat. No, the university collections usually span the course of history with representative examples to whet one’s appetite. Maybe a food analogy is in order: this is a tapas bar, not a 5 star, seven-course meal. Now, if I could get a glass of Syrah to take with me from gallery to gallery (hint, curators, marketing opportunity). I would expect to pay premium for that glass to support the arts and education, of course.
The Cantor Art Center is housed on two levels, with patron-named galleries for European, Native American, and Asian-Pacific region art. We wandered backwards from the contemporary art galleries though the 19th century European-American art galleries, then to the sculpture galleries specializing in Rodin’s works. With two special exhibits, containing paintings by Jacob Lawrence and 500 years of Italian illustrations, our afternoon was complete.
For university collections, the special exhibits serve a couple of purposes. Often these are from collections of other smaller museums. This allows the hosting museum to show works which are not part of their inventory, and if they have a concentration of artifacts they can display those in other regions of the country. Most museums have thousand of items for which they have no permanent exhibit space. Rather than protecting these in vaults, setting them up for traveling provides them with at least a temporary option for viewing. Also, with special exhibits changing several times per year, students, local residents, and travelers have reason to return. Until next time…