It's a small exhibition, only 10 works of art, but it carries a big, bold punch that is the hallmark of Pop Art.
"Pop Art from the Anderson Collection," on display at the Cantor Arts Center through Oct. 26, 2015, provides a visual timeline of the Pop movement, from an early (1954) piece by Robert Rauschenberg to a large-scale painting by James Rosenquist from 1983.
On loan from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (which is closed for expansion until 2016), the exhibition was coordinated by Cantor Director Connie Wolf and SFMOMA Curator Janet Bishop, with the permission of collectors Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson of Atherton. The 10 pieces, gifted by the Andersons in 1992, were on permanent display in their own dedicated SFMOMA gallery until the museum's recent closure.
Rauschenberg's "Collection" presages the Pop predilection for mass media, found materials and collage with a mix of media (oil, paper, fabric wood and metal) on canvas. It is a bright and colorful painting, a cacophony of paint and scraps of paper and fabric, some recognizable and some not. It is a stellar example of what Rauschenberg referred to as his "combine" paintings, which incorporated found objects onto the surface of the painted canvas.
Another major player represented is Jasper Johns, with "Land's End." Johns was interested in the importance of abstract symbols and often incorporated numbers and text into his work. In this work, oil paint in somber shades of blue, black and gray have been applied in strong and dynamic strokes. They serve as background for the subject of the painting, the words "Red, Yellow and Blue," those all-important primary colors.
The Pop movement broke through the distinctions of "high" and "low" culture and celebrated the everyday object. An early work by Claes Oldenburg (before he began making his trademark soft sculptures) is "Funeral Heart," constructed of enamel paint, plaster and muslin. It depicts a large heart that seems to emerge from a molded background. A swath of white crosses the heart, much like a ribbon on a funeral wreath, and is speckled with paint drippings. It is a familiar object, rendered in an unsettling manner.
The heart is also the subject of Jim Dine's "Blue Clamp," perhaps a more traditional rendition of the familiar shape, painted in shades of red and pink, but with the added twist of a C-clamp protruding from its center. Apparently, the artist just liked the color of the clamp (blue) and the notion of adding objects from material culture to the canvas.
There are few artists who have developed such an enduring signature style as Robert Indiana. Almost any time you see the configuration of the letters L O V E, whether on canvas or in sculptural form, you are looking at the work of Indiana. In this version, the white letters stand out against a black and orange background, with the O a bit off-kilter, as we all know romance can be. It's giant, striking signage we can all relate to -- and the city of Philadelphia has made it their logo.
Pop artists drew their inspiration from a variety of unlikely sources, said Hilarie Faberman, Cantor's curator of modern art. James Rosenquist, for example, painted billboards professionally before he established his career as a Pop artist.
Rosenquist's "Leaky Ride for Dr. Leaky" is a fascinating mash-up of disparate, unrelated elements (pencils, nuts and bolts) that seem to have a space-age theme.
One of the most easily recognized of the Pop artists is Roy Lichtenstein, well-known for his appropriation of comic strips and use of benday dots. In "Rouen Cathedral Set V," the artist set his sights a bit higher, recreating the famous series of paintings by Monet. While the great impressionist artist was intent on capturing the impact of changing light on the famous landmark, Lichtenstein employs differing dot sizes, color and black outlines in order to pursue his interest in optical effects.
And, of course, no Pop Art collection would be complete without the inclusion of Andy Warhol, the self-described "machine" of the movement. He is represented here by an acrylic and silkscreen self-portrait. The artist appears rather pensive, hand on chin, gazing directly at the viewer. Warhol was primarily responsible for the acceptance of silkscreen as an art medium (it had previously been regarded as suitable only for industrial purposes), and here it creates bold areas of color that jump out at the viewer. Because it is a mechanical process that removes the touch of the artist, while resulting in a multitude of reproductions, silkscreen was the perfect technique for the eccentric Warhol -- and as a symbol of the dawning of the information age, where the medium is the message.
Although the Cantor Arts Center has works by many of these artists, they are mainly prints that have to be rotated regularly.
"The Anderson loans," Faberman said, "are superlative quality, among the best examples on the West Coast and the loan enables the Cantor to present an installation of more than a year's duration."
The Andersons, who prefer to be known by their nicknames "Hunk" and "Moo," are well-known for their collection of post-World War II American art, particularly in the areas of the Abstract Expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative School. They are discerning collectors, as this exhibition reflects, often willing to wait years in order to acquire choice works by top-notch artists. Their gift of 121 major works from their collection to Stanford University in 2011 was a huge coup for the school, which is in the process of building a separate museum to house the works of art. Scheduled to open Sept. 21, it will join the Cantor Arts Center and the McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History to form the new "arts district" on campus.
"Pop Art from the Anderson Collection" is installed in the Cantor's Friedenrich Gallery, which overlooks the soon-to-open Anderson Collection at Stanford Museum -- whetting museum-goers' appetites for the main course yet to come.
Freelance writer Sheryl Nonnenberg can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. She worked as associate curator for the Anderson Collection from 1994-1999.