The Andersons' criteria for collecting is "Have we seen it before, and could we have thought of it?"
The family has a long history with Stanford University, dating back to their 1960’s relationship with the Department of Art and Art History, including Nathan Oliveira, artist and professor, and Albert Elsen, art historian and expert on the sculpture of Auguste Rodin, both of whom were integral resources to the Andersons as they built their collection.
After serving in the US Army during World War II, Hunk attended Hobart College in Geneva, NY, where, during his senior year, he co-founded a food service company, Saga, to manage the college’s cafeteria. After marrying Moo in 1950, they moved around the country to establish Saga at other colleges. In 1962, three years after the birth of their daughter, Mary Patricia (known as Putter) was born, they moved to the Bay Area and opened the national headquarters for Saga in Menlo Park.
The Andersons began collecting art in the mid-1960s after a trip to Europe, where they admired works of the French Impressionists. They initially collected work by Early Modernists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the German Expressionists, such as Emile Nolde, and the Early American Modernists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. By 1969, however, the Andersons made the decision to concentrate exclusively on postwar American art. In 1975 the Andersons started a graduate internship program for Stanford doctoral art history students that continues today. More than 30 doctoral candidates at Stanford have interned at the Anderson Collection, engaging in intensive study and organizing exhibitions drawn from the collection.
A large part of the Andersons’ collecting philosophy rests upon their equal beliefs in the head and the hands – meaning that they look for ingenuity as well as masterful craftsmanship in the art they collect. Equally important is that the Andersons consider themselves custodians and not owners of the art in their collection, and that this generous gift to Stanford University has been made with the purpose of sharing their important and expansive collection with the world.
The family’s holdings have come to be thought of as a collection of collections in that groups of artworks representing a variety of time periods and media are included. The collection is anchored in the work of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and extends to contemporary painters such as Terry Winters, Sean Scully, Vija Celmins and Julie Mehretu. Major post-war movements represented within the family’s collection and their gift to Stanford include, Color Field Painting, Post-Minimalism, California Funk Art, Bay Area Figurative Art, and contemporary abstract painting. Other “collections” held by the family include a group of works by early modern American artists like Arthur Dove, and a survey of European and American sculpture from Auguste Rodin to Tauba Auerbach. Together, these “collections” survey a full range of art forms, including paintings, drawings, ceramics, artist-made paper, prints, sculptures, and experiments in plastics.
While the collection is an art historical one – that is, we can trace most of the major periods of post-war American art using examples within the collection – it is primarily a collection built around the individual tastes of the Andersons. Over the years, the Andersons have made very personal choices about what to collect based on their own aesthetic. Their collection, like all outstanding private art collections, is a testament to one unique family as much as it is to the world of contemporary art.
The Anderson Collection has been shared widely through loans to museums and special exhibitions, including Celebrating Modern Art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2000-2001) and An American Focus at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (2000). The Andersons have given significant portions of their collection to these museums, including 650 graphic works to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and their extensive Pop Art collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.