Dubbed the “father of outdoor sculpture,” Albert Elsen brought to Stanford the B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden — which to date is the largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Paris — as well as Stanford’s collection of contemporary outdoor sculpture by the likes of Alexander Calder and Joan Miro.
The Rodin expert received his B.A., M.A., and PhD from Columbia University, completing his dissertation on Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which later became the centerpiece of Stanford’s collection. A decorated professor and outstanding scholar, Elsen was appointed to the faculty of Stanford’s Department of Art in 1968, following years of teaching at Carleton College and Indiana University. He remained at Stanford, teaching until his death in 1995.
Elsen advocated against the unauthorized forgery of art, becoming a pioneer of art law and co-creating the first university course on art law — still taught at Stanford today. He was a key player in passing legislation to protect artists from hazardous materials and an early supporter of art studies in predominantly African American colleges. Elsen authored several oft-used textbooks such as Purposes of Art and Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts, in addition to serving as a contributing editor to ARTnews, president of the College Art Association, and organizer of exhibitions for world-renowned museums such as the National Gallery, the Guggenheim, MoMA, and LACMA.
Many of his graduate students became curators and directors at museums around the world, including Kirk Varnedoe, who was chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, 1988-2001.