Anderson Collection Curator Jason Linetzky hopes to engage community

Jason Linetzky, Director, Anderson Collection at Stanford University

In case anyone missed the memo, Stanford is now the home of the marvelous Anderson Collection, an amalgamation of 100+ 20th-century American artworks donated by Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, and their daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence (more commonly known as Hunk, Moo and Putter, respectively).

Spearheading the move of the works from their former residential setting to a their new building on campus was Jason Linetzky, the newly appointed director and head curator. Prior to working with the collection, Linetzky worked around the Bay Area as an independent curator, a film festival director, and a commercial gallery founder.

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How long have you worked with the Anderson Collection? 

Quite a while! I started working with the Anderson Family’s private collection around 2001, and I’ve been working as the director of the Anderson collection at Stanford University since September of 2013.

How did you end up working with the Andersons?

I met the Andersons after studying Art History and having spent time in museums and galleries, then I came to California and opened a small contemporary art gallery and worked with other artists, helping to curate exhibitions for them, like pop-up exhibitions that happened around San Francisco, and helping artists write proposals for public art, site specific installations and that type of thing. Then I decided to give myself some time in the creative side of art making and signed up for a drawing class at the San Francisco Art Institute. I just so happened to be leaving the Art Institute’s art supply store and saw on a bulletin board a posting the Anderson’s had placed looking for help.

How were you involved with it prior to the Collection coming to campus?

I served as the collection manager of the Anderson family collection and oversaw the care, custody and control of their 800+ piece collection, assisted with installation of the works, curation of the objects, acquisitions, assisted with loan requests, and coordinating collection sharing exhibitions with regional institutions who would host exhibitions of works from the Anderson’s collection.

Did you play any part in helping the Andersons choose works for this collection?

I did, I mean really the charge was led by Hunk [Mr. Anderson] and Moo [Mrs. Anderson] and later by Putter [Daughter Anderson]. Hunk and Moo set out to identify a hundred works that they felt would really represent their collecting history and their stories of collecting postwar American art, they knew that they wanted this group to include painting and sculpture, and to really reflect the periods of about the 1940’s to the present. And so they started working on the list and I worked really closely with Hunk to identify artists and works by certain artists that seemed to meet the goals that they were searching to fill. And then Putter got involved, and very openly said “Well what about that artist? And what about that work?” And so the list grew to a hundred and twenty one [Interviewer’s Note: Shout out to Putter for coming through.], and that’s what made up the gift to Stanford today.

And what exactly are these “goals” the Andersons had for the final collection?

They hope that the collection is something that is incredibly accessible to students and faculty as well as the broader public. They were inspired to start collecting after a very transformative experience they had on stepping foot in the Louvre. It was the first true museum experience that the Andersons had. It just happened at a time when they were incredibly curious and open to the idea of art, I guess, and discovered a shared passion for art through that visit to the museum. And so I think one of their primary goals in making this gift to Stanford is that hopefully a home has been created for these works that were so inspiring to them, and hopefully in turn will inspire generations to come.

Is the Collection finite? Or is it growing? Are there any rotations?

The gifted collection is finite, in the sense that the Andersons gifted 121 works, painting and sculpture, and that has become the permanent collection. Those permanent collection works will be housed here in this building, dedicated to their display and interpretation, but our installations will be enhanced by loans from various sources: perhaps the Anderson family, perhaps museums or others, will lend works that we can use to sort of more broadly tell the stories of postwar American art.

Why so much emphasis on California Art?

The Andersons started collecting shortly after having moved to California. They had lived in the East coast, they had lived in the midwest, so they came to California in the early 1960’s, had this transformative experience in ’64, and sort of set off in this path to build a smalll but fine collection. At that time their focus was impressionism, European works and the sorts, but upon meeting professors at Stanford University, most notably Nathan Olivera as it relates to California, the focus changed. Nate really sort of brought the Andersons into his studio, showed them the creative process, and also very generously introduced the Andersons to other artists working in California at that time.

In the late 1960’s the Andersons were acquiring these very contemporary California works by artists who were experimenting in different materials. They were very interested in collecting New York School abstract expressionist works, but were equally inspired by things that were being made right then and there in the time they were collecting. The Andersons really strive for new ideas or for seeing things that to them are new, and that’s what keeps them going. And in California there’s all these sorts of innovative qualities to creation, the California spirit, if you want to call it that.

How did the collection’s history as part of a family setting play in to the curating process? What choices go into translating the works from a home to an institution? 

Fortunately the Andersons lived with the collection very intimately at home, and that gave me and the museum the opportunity to take some liberty with installing the works, in a way that could reflect relationships that the Andersons had with either artists or collectors or other gallerists, that were instrumental to the building of their collection. It also gave us the opportunity to install works that you might not necessarily come to see next to one another in a more traditional setting, but would allow us to reflect the spirit with which the Andersons acquired works. For us to have the flexibility to reflect the way in which they built their collection here, is pretty tremendous.

And how is it reflected in the building itself?

The building was designed by Richard Olcott. Richard was incredibly inspired by a visit that he made to the Andersons’ home. He saw the way in which they lived with these works, and the way in which natural light sort of played into the display of the works in the home, and so he brought that into the building as an architectural feature. He also gave us galleries that were intimate in scale and flexible in design.

One of the great things about the building, and you sort of have to be here to see it, is the way in which the galleries are open to one another. There aren’t any doors diving the space, and the great thing about it is that there are these front galleries in which you are closely looking at works across to adjacent galleries, and thus the opportunity to make these new relationships between works that you wouldn’t expect to see.

It’s important for a building to achieve a balance between being an enjoyable space but not detracting from the emphasis on the art. How do you think the building achieves this balance?

A great question [Interviewer’s Note: Nailed it.]. I think Richard and the entire team did an incredible job with the building, they were very sensitive to what its function is, and very mindful of the works that the Andersons were gifting, and how they might live “in perpetuity” in their new home. We’ve always been calling this building on Stanford’s campus as the home for the Anderson collection. He was really sensitive to that, and designed a building that meets museum standards in terms of climate control etc. and has the sort of glorious white walls you’ll find in New York MoMA, but it doesn’t in any way overwhelm the collection or the installation of the works in the building. I think they really work in concert with one another, amazingly well. The building really allows the collection to sing and gives the visitors a place to really experience the works, intimately.

How do you plan to keep the community involved with the works? 

We’re working on developing a program for community engagement, both within and outside the University. We’ve had a joint open house with Stanford Live and Bing Concert hall, which was sort of our first step out into the community, and to engage with our new campus partners here. We also had the great opportunity to participate in Party On The Edge, the Cantor Arts Center’s incredible student gathering. We’re also working with professors who are hosting classes here. We’re also working with people in the department of Theater and Performance Studies, who are choreographing pieces that respond to the collection and will then be presenting public performances of that. So those things are in the works, and/or happening.

Our hope is to continue developing these relationships across campus, to engage the student community, both undergraduate and graduate levels, and work on specifically targeted tours and events for various campus constituents. Speaking to the goals of the collection being here too I think we should all be mindful that the mission of the University is of course to share its resources with the broader public, so we have every intention of finding exciting and engaging ways to connect with the Students and hopefully take inspiration from the students, and get some ideas from you guys [Interviewer’s Note: That’s you, guys.] on what you’d like to see here.

Is there any work you particularly return to? Or which holds a special place in your heart? 

Yes! I’m incredibly fond of a lot of these works so I don’t like to pick favorites, but I have found that in this building there’s a work by Robert Irwin, an untitled disk from 1969, that I find really works exceptionally well in this space. The use of natural light really enhances the visitor’s experience with this particular piece, as it does with others, but I think that Irwin’s disk is pretty remarkable in this space as it is installed now.

What would you like to be able to say about the Anderson collection a year from now? 

I’d like to be able to say that it has inspired at least one person to think newly about whatever it is that they do in their life, and if it’s giving them some level of creative expression, be that traditionally through art making or art thinking, or if it engages their creative spirit in the social sciences or political science or engineering or computer science, I’d just like to know that at least one person has been moved by the experience here and left the building thinking about the world in a new way.

Any question you would have liked to be asked?

Hmm… No, I don’t think so. [Interviewer’s Note: Best interviewer in the game right here.] You know, I think that one of the primary goals for the space is that it’s a place that’s welcoming and open and available, we’re here six days a week, we’re free admission and we have a huge desire for visitors to come and spend as much time as they’d like to spend, and that you come back to see your single most favorite work, or you come and spend the whole day and see the entire collection, but the message is that we look forward to the engagement and the opportunities to share the collection as broadly as possible, and look forward to people’s comments and feedback on the collection.

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Photo credit: Linda Cicero

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