Artists have been grappling with ways to convey awe and wonder for centuries, and their fascination with the cosmos persists to this day. Here are five works on the main campus, inside and out, and two at Stanford Redwood City that were inspired by the wonders of the universe.
Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker (1902-04) sits under Spencer Finch’s representation of the exploding Betelgeuse star at the Cantor Arts Center. In the artist’s light sculpture Betelgeuse (2015), the form evokes an explosive celestial object and emits the same light reading as its eponymous star – the second brightest in the Orion constellation.
Image credit: Andrew Brodhead
The large contemporary oil and wax painting of a night sky by Vija Celmins titled Barrier (1985-86) hangs on the second floor of the Anderson Collection. The deep black of the six-by-six-foot starscape suggests infinite cosmic space beyond the edges.
Image credit: Impart Photography
Reflecting on the creation of Pars pro Toto (2021), located in the Science and Engineering Quad, artist Alicja Kwade said of her work, “[It] is a threefold reflection: It allows us to become giants roaming a human-scale solar system, but it also reminds us to be dwarfed by the ever-expanding universe. We become aware that our Earth is but a minute sphere, a marble suspended in our geocentric horizon.”
Image credit: Andrew Brodhead
A delicate tangled web of gleaming metal graces the lawn outside of Stanford’s Packard Electrical Engineering Building. Mozart I (1982) by Kenneth Snelson comprises eighteen metal tubes pointing skyward at various angles supported by metal cables. Art historian Howard N. Fox writes, “For Snelson, the mystery and wonder of the universe is what he describes as ‘the infinite perfection of connections’ among units – or in other words – how it all holds together. [His] comparison of the connective process in his work to a tiny solar system is much more than just a fanciful conceit; it is an overt identification of his own sculptures with a universal ordering process.”
Image credit: McKenzie Prillaman
The steel sculpture Space Lace (1997) by Linda Fleming, located outside Encina Commons, reveals, on an intuitive level, a new world to the viewer. The reality of the physical world and the mysteries of the universe are brought together through the artist’s vision. Fleming says her works “hint at the co-existence of the mundane and the cosmological where two realities simultaneously exist, including the possibility that the past is also present.”
Image credit: L.A. Cicero
Located in Discovery Hall at Stanford Redwood City, Wendy Robushi’s contemporary interpretation of a mandala, Celestial Intersection (2019), invites the viewer on a meditative, exploratory visual experience of her mixed media representation of the cosmos.
Image credit: Courtesy Wendy Robushi
The acrylic painting The Holographic Universe (2017) by James Ong, located in Discovery Hall at Stanford Redwood City, depicts the vastness of space, a holographic universe. Ong seeks to convey an awe-inspiring mystery that can be seen but not fully understood.
Image credit: Courtesy James Ong