At that time, Cantor, co-founder of the New York securities firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, was well on his way to putting together the largest private collection in the world of the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Cantor first became enamored of the artist's work in 1945, when he saw The Hand of God on a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon after, he bought another version of the sculpture for $95. With the purchase of The Kiss in the mid-1950s, Cantor's interest soared — eventually leading him to buy more than 750 Rodin works, over half of which he gave away during his lifetime.
The establishment of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in 1978 helped to consolidate the Cantors' philanthropic efforts. At the Metropolitan Museum, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, with its sculpture-lined paths and view of Manhattan, is one of the most remarkable of several exhibition areas they endowed. The Foundation has also offered extensive support to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Stanford (Calif.) University.
When Bernie Cantor died in 1996, The New York Times reported that the couple had been involved with over 150 cultural institutions. Iris Cantor continues to oversee the work of the Foundation, which is committed not only to the arts but also to medicine and biomedical research, particularly in women's issues.
Holy Cross drew the Cantors' attention early on. A member of the President's Council, Cantor received an honorary degree in fine arts from the College in 1980. "During that time," says Fr. Brooks, "Bernie often loaned or gave a Rodin to Holy Cross — we had The Thinker on campus for a year or so on loan."
In all, the Cantors gave 53 works of art to the College, including not only such Rodin pieces as the Bust of Young Balzac, the Head of St. John the Baptist and the Head of Pope Benedict XV, but also Italian artist Enzo Plazzotta's striking piece, the Hand of Christ, which graces the steps of Dinand Library.
In the early 1980s, Fr. Brooks recalls, "it was in conversation with Bernie that I brought up the idea of turning a lounge area into a gallery. He was amenable and they did it."
"Mr. Cantor's first honorary degree came from Holy Cross," says Judith Sobol, executive director of the Cantor Foundation, as she reflects on the genesis of the gallery. "Both of the Cantors were so impressed by the College that they decided to put their admiration in the form of funds to professionalize the art collection."
In October 1983, Holy Cross became the first college in the country to host a gallery established by the Cantor Foundation. The 1800-square foot exhibition area opened in the lobby of O'Kane, a location chosen to maximize its accessibility. The contemporary space blends smoothly into its 19th-century context, with enormous floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the black and white tile work of O'Kane's first floor hallway. Fittingly, the gallery's inaugural exhibit was Rodin-centered, featuring 31 pieces by the sculptor — as well as an engraving of Victor Hugo by Rodin, a Rodin lithograph by Renoir and two Rodin-inspired photographs by Edward Steichen; all of the works were either loaned or donated by the Cantor Foundation.
At the opening in the fall of 1983, which the Cantors attended, Fr. Brooks commented that the gallery "affords the entire Holy Cross community an opportunity to experience that artistic beauty which so readily helps us attain the openness and tolerance necessary if we are to understand who we are and how we relate to one another."
From the outset, the Cantors' knowledge of the art world established the gallery's professionalism.
"We duplicate the standards of a museum in terms of humidity controls, security, lighting and air quality because the Cantors understood that and built it in from the beginning," says Hankins. "This is no small thing for a college. It plays a huge role in our being able to borrow objects. It gives us legitimacy."
In addition, Hankins stresses, the academic resources of the College itself provide an ongoing source of intellectual energy.
"The advantage of the connection with the departments," he says, "is that we are able to do extremely ambitious shows. When you look to collaborate with faculty members, you discover all of a sudden that you have a very large staff of museum experts on campus."
Virginia Raguin, of the visual arts department, is in the process of curating her sixth show for the gallery — an examination of "Pilgrimages of Three Faiths: Christian, Buddhist, Muslim" — that will open in the spring of 2009. A medievalist with multifaceted interests in religious art, she considers the gallery "absolutely essential" to her teaching.
"I've used the gallery constantly," Raguin says. "Inevitably, the installation of an exhibit is brilliant, subtly executed to bring out the subject matter. Roger is quite extraordinary in his ability to work with people and to bring the best out."
Moreover, Raguin has found that the process of curating and mounting an exhibition has had a critical impact on her own research.
"You're galvanized by the objects you're studying," she says. "By grouping them, you learn even more."
Like Hankins, Raguin attributes the gallery's capability to showcase major exhibitions to the sophisticated quality of the gallery's facilities.
"There are lots of galleries at other small colleges," she says. "But this is a professional gallery that can support major loans from major museums. We've borrowed from the Metropolitan, the MFA, Chicago, Princeton, Harvard."
Raguin emphasizes the complicated process of borrowing period pieces from a major museum like the Met: "You need a two-and-a-half year advance. There is paperwork up to the eyeballs and you have to go through conservators."
The Cantor Gallery's ability to undertake this process, she continues, "gives us an enormous amount of status as an institution."
With the announcement of a $1 million dollar challenge grant from the Cantor Foundation last November, that status is only likely to increase. The gift, the largest ever received by the gallery, requires Holy Cross to raise an additional $600,000 in matching funds, effectively doubling the gallery's endowment.
Treasures of the Cantor, continued>>>