Sculptures by Richard Serra and Claes Oldenburg Added to Outdoor Art Collection
Contact: Hilarie Faberman, Robert M. and Ruth L. Halperin Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, 650-725-3499; or Jill Osaka, Public Relations Manager, 650-725-4657.
Stanford, CA—During July 1998, two significant sculptures by contemporary American artists will be added to the outdoor art collection on campus and installed on the museum's grounds. The two sculptures, Call Me Ishmael (1986) by Richard Serra, and Soft Inverted Q (1977) by Claes Oldenburg, are major works by American artists of international reputation. The Serra sculpture is a long-term loan from Doris and Donald Fisher; the Oldenburg sculpture is a gift of Robin Quist Gates in memory of George Quist (Class of 1948). The Museum, currently closed due to earthquake damage, is scheduled to reopen in January 1999 as the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University.
Call Me Ishmael is a characteristic and unique work by Serra in which the artist explores the formal issues of mass, gravity, and space. The sculpture is comprised of two massive plates of Cor-Ten steel, each weighing over 30 tons and measuring 53 feet long, 13 1/2 feet high, and 2 1/2 inches thick. Tilted slightly off axis, the two plates suggest the hull of a ship as well as the leviathan from Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, whose opening lines inspired the sculpture's title. The sculpture, however, is not an interpretation of the struggle between man and beast; rather, like many of Serra's works, Call Me Ishmael explores formal issues of sculpture-making, such as gravity, weight, volume, and the viewer's perception or awareness of his body in space.
Call Me Ishmael may also contain autobiographical references. Born in San Francisco in 1939, Serra is the son of a pipefitter who worked in the Marine Shipyards. The artist also worked briefly in steel mills in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When he began to exhibit his work in the late 1960s, Serra was associated with Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre for whom the content of sculpture was linked to its form, structure, and materials. Since that time he has become recognized as one of America's most innovative sculptors who is particularly well known for his public art, some of which has been controversial.
As Serra wrote about his sculpture in 1988: "Weight is a value for me, not that it is any more compelling than lightness, but I simply know more about weight than lightness and therefore I have more to say about it, more to say about the balancing of weight, the diminishing of weight, the addition and subtraction of weight, the concentration of weight, the rigging of weight, the propping of weight, the placement of weight, the locking of weight, the psychological effects of weight, the disorientation of weight, the disequilibrium of weight, the rotation of weight, the movement of weight, the directionality of weight, the shape of weight. I have more to say about the perpetual and meticulous adjustments of weight, more to say about the pleasure derived from the exactitude of the laws of gravity. I have more to say about the processing of the weight of steel, more to say about the forge, the rolling mill, and the open hearth."
Soft Inverted Q by Claes Oldenburg is a life-size painted concrete and resin sculpture weighing about 3 1/2 tons and measuring 72 inches high, 70 inches wide and 63 inches deep. It is typical of Oldenburg's approach of selecting a recognizable symbol or object, removing it from its original condition and context, and imbuing it with new meaning through unexpected juxtapositions of scale, color, texture, and environment. In Oldenburg's work small becomes large, hard becomes soft, and the familiar and obvious become extraordinary. Oldenburg, who was born in Sweden in 1929, is best known as one of the proponents of the American Pop Art movement in the 1960s.
The idea for Soft Inverted Q began in the late 1950s when typography was an integral part of the posters that Oldenburg created to advertise his own exhibitions. On a visit to Los Angeles in 1963, Oldenburg became conscious of the colossal letters (i.e., "Hollywood") that were such an important part of the myth of the city. The idea of monumental letters in the landscape was explored by Oldenburg in a portfolio of lithographs he produced with the fine-art publisher Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles in 1968. During the next decade, Oldenburg further experimented with the idea of the colossal alphabet in the landscape in numerous drawings and prints. Eventually, as he worked with the symbol Q, it became apparent that the letter needed to be inverted to maintain its identity. As Oldenburg said, "an inverted position seemed necessary because a Q with its tail buried wouldn't be a Q at all."
In the 1970s Oldenburg gradually transformed the Q from a symbol associated with the alphabet to an object of sensuous contours. In the process he added the figural reference to the navel and painted the sculpture pink, enhancing its allusion to the body. Soft Inverted Q is the first major work by Oldenburg to feature human anatomy while transforming its initial character and retaining its inherent and fundamental form. It is number three of four casts of the subject: the remaining three editions are in the collections of the Akron Art Institute in Akron, Ohio; the Städtisches Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach, Germany; and the Samsung Corporation in Seoul, South Korea.
Call Me Ishmael will be sited in the newly developed sculpture garden dedicated to outdoor art of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries on the north side of the Cantor Arts Center. Soft Inverted Q is sited on the south side of the Center on the terrace of the new wing, adjacent to the Rodin Sculpture Garden. After the Center's opening in January 1999, the sculptures will be featured in regularly scheduled docent-led tours of the outdoor art collection. Call Me Ishmael and Soft Inverted Q join approximately fifty sculptures by Rodin and other twentieth-century artists that provide Stanford with its distinguished outdoor art collection. These outdoor works on campus underscore the important role of art in the education of Stanford students, a view originally promoted by the university's founders Jane and Leland Stanford.