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Cantor director discusses worth, value of art in Morning Forum of Los Altos presentation

Photo By: Kathryn Tomaino/ Special to the Town Crier
Photo Kathryn Tomaino/ Special To The Town Crier

Connie Wolf, director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, addresses The Morning Forum of Los Altos April 16.

As French novelist Marcel Proust wrote, “The voyage of discovery consists of not seeing new landscapes but learning new ideas.”

Connie Wolf, director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, wove Proust’s theme through her April 16 Morning Forum of Los Altos presentation, “Art, Is It Worth It? What Makes Art Valuable?”

Wolf came to the Cantor in January 2012, a transformative time that saw the opening of the Bing Music Center, a new building under construction for the Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson American Art Collection, and an adjacent building that will house Stanford’s Art and Art History departments.

Wolf graduated from Stanford University in 1981. Before joining the Cantor Arts Center, she was a Warren Weaver Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Arts and Humanities Division, associate director of education at the Whitney Museum of American Art and director and CEO of San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Wolf said experiencing art can act as a springboard, prompting new ideas.

“Thinking about a specific painting or art object can lead to questions that impact other disciplines, like science or medicine,” she said.

As an example, Wolf related how a Stanford Hospital hand surgeon was fascinated by the Cantor’s Rodin sculpture collection. As he studied their hands, he realized that they portrayed a medical condition he could incorporate into his practice and brought his medical students to look for themselves.

Conversely, Wolf said, science can lead to research can lead to art. Stanford University founder Leland Stanford asked photographer Eadweard Muygridge to research whether horses hooves ever leave the ground at once. Muygridge’s series of photographs eventually led to the development of motion pictures.

Not every piece of art will speak to everyone – sometimes a different concept takes time to understand. Wolf recounted the installation of a large red Calder sculpture in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., courtesy of a 1960s National Endowment for the Arts grant.

“What does it mean? And why is it only red?” were initial reactions.

The sculpture gradually became an icon featured on city buses and ultimately built community, drawing large crowds around it for city ceremonies.

“The role of art museums is changing over time, with education about art as front and center,” she said.

Wolf cited the examples of the “How We MET” campaign in New York City, which allows visitors to contribute their opinions about what they saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the New York Museum of Modern Art’s “I went to the MOMA because …” public outreach.

She wants Cantor visitors to look at art in a new way and ask questions about it. In particular, she hopes children benefit from experiencing art on site, supported by the Cantor’s recently introduced family programs.

The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit www.morningforum.org.

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