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Corn played a pivotal role in saving Stanford’s art museum. “Wanda agreed to serve as acting director of the museum while the university searched for a permanent director,” said Mona Duggan, deputy director emerita of Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center. “Just two months later, the [1989 Loma Prieta] earthquake struck, significantly damaging the museum, which had to be closed. For many months, the staff did not know if the museum would ever be allowed to reopen. Because of Wanda’s leadership and diligent lobbying during that critical period, the university’s administration did allow us to continue the search [for a director] and to rebuild and expand the museum.”.
Corn, who is Stanford’s Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Art History, Emerita, also gets credit for first envisioning a Stanford arts district, She recalled, “When John Hennessy became president [of Stanford in 2000], he asked me to be a visionary about the arts, … He made the request what are pointe shoes that I give him an appraisal of the fine arts, By that, he meant drama, music, dance and, of course, the visual arts, … Later on Hennessy said, ‘you were the first person to articulate the notion of an arts district.’” With the new art department building, Bing Concert Hall and Anderson Collection constructed near the Cantor Arts Center, that arts district is now a reality..
Among Corn’s many extra-curricular activities, she advised the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, which was charged with making decisions about the disposal of O’Keeffe’s estate. Corn said, “I was asked, along with a few others, to come to Santa Fe to review and evaluate the large number of paintings left in O’Keeffe’s estate.” Corn’s consulting with the foundation helped make it possible for the Stanford museum to acquire O’Keeffe’s 1927 painting “Seaweed.”. The excitement Corn feels for both academic and museum work was palpable in a recent interview. She spoke about her dual interests that go back to the Certificate of Museum Training she earned as an “add on” to her Ph.D. degree from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 1974. She said, “When I left grad school I was already a bifurcated professional.”.
“Part of me was a museum educator and museum curator, and I loved the theater of putting on exhibitions, I also loved the fact that it gave me a broader audience than I got in the academic classroom, And on what are pointe shoes the other hand, I also loved teaching and turning people on to art history and sending graduate students out into the world as trained historians, I am very proud of the number of professionals who went on both from [my teaching at] Mills and from Stanford to have very illustrious careers.”..
Corn’s 1976 project “American Art: An Exhibition from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd” offers an example of those dual interests conjoined. She explained, “I had already curated two major exhibitions for the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, which had a very small staff at that time. The [de Young Museum] director Ian White was able to secure the loan and premiere the Rockefeller collection of American art. … show it for the very first time,” Corn said. “Ian asked me if I would be the curator, and he also asked me if I would make the best possible academic use of the collection so Rockefeller could see that the riches of his collection could be shared with a public in San Francisco that it would never get if it stayed in New York, where there are so many other great public collections of American art.
“I worked night and day, I taught courses at both [UC] Berkeley and Mills College then and … we brought all the students over … and gave them seminars and workshops in the museum galleries, I also did a what are pointe shoes set of public programs that were very multidisciplinary, I really worked hard on the academic side of things and showed the Rockefellers how the Bay Area would embrace their collection.” Corn’s efforts paid off, The Rockefellers left 141 important works to the de Young, including paintings by George Caleb Bingham, Frederic Edwin Church and Winslow Homer..
In 2008, Corn retired from Stanford and teaching to devote herself to one side of her career: curating exhibits and writing their companion books. She had three exhibit-book projects in mind. The first was “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” completed in 2011. “Living Modern” is the second. The third project on Corn’s wish list is a scholarly version of the show she quickly put together to raise spirits on campus after the 1989 earthquake. That was entirely from her personal collection of pop-culture images of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” the country couple with a pitchfork. Corn’s future show will also follow on her scholarly “Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision,” a major exhibition that opened in 1983 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, then traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The accompanying book is still available in hard cover and paper back.
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