My First Visit to Cantor Center for Visual Arts

Thursday may 17, 2007, I was invited to attend one of my son’s Art classes, not in his college, but in Cantor Art Center of Stanford University, or what used to be called Stanford Art Museum.

The museum had a puzzling air about it; it was not exactly a museum, nor it was an art gallery. Stanford family, the founders of the University bearing the family name in the heart of Silicon Valley, laid the first cornerstones of the museum they built to house the art they collected from around the world, of which some ancient and priceless ones were bought directly from excavators. Then the museum grew to be more of an art gallery housing abstract and modern paintings side-by-side with the ancient, after surviving earthquakes and periods of neglect.

The Gates of Hell, 1880–1900

Stones gathered from the previous museum building that did not survive the earthquake. A groove that was caused by the earth-shake outside of the building was filled with some fillings and the remains of those stones. Notice how the groove zigzags.

So the first impression I had inside the museum was “a combination of an ancient world of museums co-existing with the modern or contemporary art gallery!!!”….. Not an easy combination for the interior decorator of the building, or the ones responsible for arranging such pieces to give the feeling of transition from the two diverse dimension of ancient past to the chaotic modern life. But I can see that this was well taken care of, and the color combination used to paint the interiors in each quarter, in addition to light-shade distribution in the building, added majesty to the place and helped in creating the right atmosphere, where such transitions became very smooth and that by itself is an art.

It was a real exciting experience for me that differed from any other experience I had in visiting museums or art galleries in the past. I have always appreciated arts. To me art is a creation, a discovery process of civilizations. And it always amazed me how some experts could get a lot of information from a small piece of broken ceramic found in the rubbles, or a canvas that may even tell the story of a whole civilization.

Museum visitations always carried a special joy in my heart, as if taking me out of my reality, and placing me in other dimensions, other people’s shoes, so that I could better understand my own reality. To me art is meditative, and that’s why I usually like to be left alone when I’m in a museum. Tour guides bore me with lots of information of which I won’t even remember much when the tour is over, and end up with a headache. I’d rather be left in my solitude to discover the jewels of a museum on my own.

But this visitation was not a regular tour in a museum, it was a class conducted inside the museum, in other words; it was a docent-tour. And to me it was a unique experience that I did not expect. The class assignment to student at the end of the quarter is to choose one realistic painting (not abstract) of the museum to write a report about. Now “how to write such a report, and what element you should look for in a canvas when writing the report” was the purpose of conducting this class session in the museum I suppose .

The class was supposed to group analyze a painting. So habitually I ran to the description label of that painting even before checking out the piece. Well, it is true that 99% of the times I don’t even remember the name of the artist, but I enjoy the effect the piece cast on me at that instant, especially after reading the label to know the theme. But unexpectedly, the instructor stopped me. She said something that sounded like; we will try to read the painting through the painting itself and not through the written words of the label!! In other words; no label reading!!!!

First we started by giving general description of what we saw in the canvas as outsiders; color, light-shade, identifying the objects in the painting and so forth. Then we got in the canvas and tried to figure out what is going on inside that framed boundary, and what impact that painting has on us while we’re there; like what senses is provoked? And what feelings?

Stories started popping out; all wild guesses. Then the majority agreed on a unified interpretation. And then we read the label to find out how close we were in our speculation. Exactly like learning how to read the ABC of a new language. And this to me was a new beneficial experience that I immensely enjoyed. How many times I’ve been to museums. Never for once I tried to see deeply into any piece of art before reading the descriptive label beside it.

The other thing that grabbed my attention was the building itself. The architecture resembled that of the Renaissance buildings with open halls and high ceilings. And lots of arches and beams gives a feeling of abundance and huge breathing spaces. But the Interior decorating in general was modern and it appeared to be based on researched affect each corner is supposed to cast on the visitors. Which was another irony that blended very well.
This is my general impression about the building. I did not get to check it properly since visiting hours were over only ten minutes after class ended. But, for sure I will have more visits and will take the class assignment seriously if the instructor does not mind checking it for me. And I’m sure that my son would be deligted to have my company on his next trip to the museum… 😉
LOL, it feel like a student again, only this time I don’t have to worry about my grade, and can have all my time to write that report, and I also have the option to choose not to hand in the assignment….sorry students, but pun was intended, I’m jealous 😛

Ok now; let’s take a look at some of the things I liked the most in the museum.

“The Horse”, no that’s not the official title of the piece, unfortunately I did not have the time to read the label…. :p. I didn’t even get the name of the artist, but I have made a mental note to check it out next time I visit and will update this post accordingly.
The thing about the horse is that it’s made of bronze. The details of the groves on the piece were so awesome that even with a very close look you could almost swear that it’s natural wood. The piece also had this three dimensional perfection about it; from whatever angle you look at it, you can hardly spot a fault, and the piece becomes more convincing.

Breastfeeding, African personification and “The Kiss” were also my favorites:

Click here if you want to see more pics, and enjoy.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. intlxpatr
    May 21, 2007 @ 21:15:57

    Above the museum in the first photo is a sign about an exhibit called “The Art of Being Tuareg” but I can’t read the smaller writing – is that exhibit open now, or coming soon?? It looks fascinating!


  2. AyyA
    May 21, 2007 @ 23:14:07

    Hey sweetie
    I think it’s some type of North-African Art exhibition. I’m not very familiar with arts, but here is more about the exhibition, and here is what Tuaregs stand for according to Wikipedia.


  3. you-sif
    May 22, 2007 @ 18:18:12

    ولكم باك


  4. intlxpatr
    May 23, 2007 @ 14:53:16

    Oooooh, opens May 31! Hope you will go see, take photos, and SHARE!

    Ayya, find Half Price Books, and look in mysteries for Katherine Neville’s The 8. It’s an oldie, but goodie, if you haven’t already read it, and features Tuaregs. (or is that Tuareg?)


  5. Hanan
    May 27, 2007 @ 18:52:02

    Sounds like a fun day. I miss museum visits and this one, from the outside, kinda reminds me of NYC public library (not exactly our type of public libraries:))


  6. AyyA
    May 28, 2007 @ 12:24:02

    Thanks bro

    Yes, I will be attending the exhibition and off course I’ll share pictures. And about the book, we have a long weekend for the memorial day, Monday, and I’m driving the boys to UC at Berkeley California, where their mom used to go to school 😉
    So may be next weekend. I know a place where I can find used books, so I’ll look it then, it sounds interesting. And LOL, no it’s not Tuaregs it’s Tuareg, I was only trying to pluralize it 🙂

    I went to the museum again today, and you have no idea how joyful this experience was to me. You see I have no idea about visual arts or art history, even though I have always been fascinated by beauty and creativity. Now I’m entering this field from a different dimension. Looking at art as a critic.. Wow, never thought that could happen. And btw; I will soon add more pictures, and more information to older pictures in the link I provided above if you are interested to know more.


  7. white wings
    May 29, 2007 @ 17:42:38

    looks amazing Ayya, a museum is usually my first stop at a new town, if present, for i get to know alot about the town, even from a social and ideological points of view from its very museum…so were the trip mixed? boys and girls together? 🙂 very Kuwaiti of me, no??
    الطبطبائي عقدني يا عزيزتي


  8. AyyA
    May 31, 2007 @ 05:08:33

    Hi sweetie
    ما تنلامين حبيبتي،طبطب عقد الكل لدرجه اني قمت افضل الكويت من غير مجلس
    And where were you the other day? I missed you. :*


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