Harry 'Hunk' Anderson on why Stanford beat out San Francisco museums for the family’s big donation
Bay Area art collectors Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson did not go to Stanford University. He went to Hobart College in Buffalo, where he started a food services business with two partners while still a senior (taking over one of the main dining rooms), and she went to nearby D’Youville. Their daughter went to USC.
But that hasn’t stopped the Andersons (they are known as Hunk and Moo) from making the biggest art donation to Stanford in recent years: 121 contemporary artworks that include Jackson Pollock’s “Lucifer,” Philip Guston’s “The Coat II," Ellsworth Kelly’s “Black Ripe” and three paintings by Richard Diebenkorn (yes, one is from his famous “Ocean Park” series). Stanford has agreed to build a new gallery building dedicated to their collection, set to open by the end of 2014.
The gift surprised some observers, who noted the family's long association with SFMOMA. In 1992, they donated a group of 30 works by Pop artists like Claes Oldenberg, Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist to the museum. In 1996, they donated more than 650 prints to the city's Fine Arts Museums, which first showcased the material at the Legion of Honor before moving it to the deYoung. In 2000, SFMOMA held an exhibition “Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection,” which could be seen as a bid for the collectors’ remaining masterpieces.
Anderson says there are good reasons they skipped over SFMOMA this time. “We’ve already given 30 works to SFMOMA and now, in addition, SFMOMA has received for all practical purposes the [Don and Doris] Fisher collection, so their cup runneth over," he says. "We like the idea of collection sharing."
Getting "a dedicated building exclusively for the Anderson collection" did not hurt, he admits: "That's always been a major objective of ours." And, on the lighter side, he talks about sharing the wealth across the three different institutions as the latest chapter in his long history with triangles. "It seems like all our lives we've been involved with triangles," he adds, mentioning the partnership that launched his business and the three members of his family.
Oddly, this gift both is and is not the family's first donation to Stanford. Back in the early ‘90s, when the Andersons were friendly with faculty members like Nathan Oliviera, they originally donated the prints now at the deYoung to the university. But the deal fell apart.
Anderson explains, “For one reason or another, because of timing and the building and the space to be available, it didn't work out then, and by mutual agreement we decided that the 650 works should go to the Fine Arts Museums."
Now the question is where their next 100—or 700—works will go. The collector says there are about that many works left in the collection after this gift. For instance, while they gifted the Diebenkorn canvases to Stanford, he says “we still have four very fine Diebenkorn paintings on paper.”
Photo: Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and their daughter Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, standing in front of Franz Kline's "Figure 8" (1952) and Mark Rothko's "Pink and White over Red" (1957). Both works are part of the family's gift to Stanford. Credit: Linda Cicero / Stanford University.