iPads and Eyes: Scribbles 001-003 from the Anderson Collection

At the Stanford Arts Review, we find the Andersons’ generous gift to Stanford a cause for both public and intimate celebration. We encourage you to visit the collection, force your expectations of art out the door and open yourself to discomfort. For what is modern and contemporary art, after all? Scribbles on a canvas, clean lines, exultations of color that arise in all their material glory from the human mind. 

We now bring you a weekly series where our writers confront each painting and sculpture in the Anderson Collection, from 001 to 121. This week: Larry Bell’s Glass Cube, Robert Irwin’s Untitled, and Jackson Pollock’s Lucifer.

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001. Eric Eich on Larry Bell’s Glass Cube

The Anderson Collection, Standford University

Sometimes you just want an expert to stand in front of you and tell you what a piece (or movie, or person) is all about. Modern and contemporary art sometimes seems built to destroy the confidence that learning can build: to leave you totally clueless, to annihilate the verve planted by a particularly arresting lecture, one which you leave feeling like a new (wo)man while slowly sounding out the syllables in “phe-nom-en-on-o-lo-gy.” All I ask is that someone tell me what to look for.

Because sans statement, contemporary art often puts me back at square one. Or, in this case, perhaps cube one. There is no pre-film lecture here. I would like for a tiny man, perhaps with a thick European accent of some kind, to be placed at Larry Bell’s Glass Cube at the Anderson Collection and tell me what it’s about. Herr ___, please could you tell me, what should I look for in this cube? Without a guide, mein heart sinks, but I can play regardless, making circles around the cube or standing on tippy-toe to get high enough above its shiny surface to stare up my nostrils. Using our reflections I superimpose myself, with no small amount of giggling, on top of the lady across the cube from me. MOVE ME, LARRY!

002. Yan Yan on Robert Irwin’s Untitled

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Upon entering the newly opened Anderson Collection, a feel-good introduction video describes the 121 works of art on display as “pieces you don’t have to be an art critic to appreciate.” This is great, because the only thing I consider myself a critic of is dining hall food. Still, my lack of artistic prowess didn’t stop me from being struck by the bold simplicity of some of the works on display. Robert Irwin’s untitled 1969 piece of a simple white orb superimposed on an equally white canvas stopped me in my tracks. The piece is quiet and downplayed, but poised in a way that makes you question exactly what you’re seeing. Is it painting or sculpture? The shadow of the orb blends seamlessly against the background, giving the image a realistic sense of depth, yet the softness of the colors makes the work appear to be laid on a single plane.

Upon closer inspection, the orb is revealed to be a foreground physically extended outward from the canvas. But inside a certain viewing angle, the Irwin piece creates this wonderful illusion of coherence. This speaks to the well thought out construction of the gallery space. Not only does the soft lighting reinforce Irwin’s illusion, but the very dimensions surrounding the space, from where the bench is placed to where the walls block the piece from view, enables the viewer to first see the orb flat again the canvas. It’s a quiet deception, one that I am happy to participate in. For me, the painting evokes a sense of calm and belonging. The pale orb and its one translucent band looks almost like a drowsy eye, sleepily falling back into its canvas, confident and unperturbed, as I fall into its charm.

003. Julia Espero on Jackson Pollock’s Lucifer

The newly installed Anderson Collection features a Jackson Pollock piece, “Lucifer.” The work previously resided in the dining room of the Anderson family’s home and now rests on the second floor of the building. When I first approached the painting I had a brief conversation with a nearby security guard who mentioned that the Andersons still visit the collection regularly despite donating it to the public—perhaps because they miss their art.

At first glance “Lucifer” appears to be pretty basic: a neutral beige and grey base that’s layered under thick drippings of paint that look like the messily drizzled orange, blue, and green chocolate sauce of a toddler. The techniques Pollock used to create his work, however, are anything but simple; the layers of paint make the painting feel like a three-dimensional web—almost like the little splatters are clusters of stars and galaxies and the viewer is an astronaut.

Pollock’s work is intentionally interpretive. An iPad tour prototype offered by the exhibit facilitates this interpretive process; it allows the user to “scan” particular art pieces and learn more about their origins. This application brings up visual points of interest on the artwork; for instance, a small bit of brown cigarette paper that remains stuck to the face of the painting. The left behind pieces of Pollock’s life on his artwork makes it as if Pollock is living through “Lucifer.”

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Photo 1 by Tim Griffith

Photo 2 by Yuto Watanabe

Photo 3 by Julia Espero

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