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Diverse, inclusive, modern: Say ‘YO’ to the new Cantor

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Looking for a quick escape from the returning onslaught of essays and p-sets? Or, perhaps, the ideal site for that annual “still surviving winter quarter” photoshoot? The Cantor Arts Center’s recently-acquired “OY/YO” sculpture, the brainchild of Brooklyn-based artist Deborah Kass, might just provide you with the meditative experience or perfect shot you’ve been looking for. 

Although it appears shockingly simple at first glance, the piece is the first iteration in achieving Cantor’s new goal of embracing the contemporary — a warmly welcomed mission considering its collegiate location.

While I highly recommend making the trek to see it in person (it’s a 10-minute bike ride maximum, even from east campus), it would be impossible to touch upon the nature of Kass’ genius without first attempting to describe the sculpture itself.

Right off the bat, passerby are drawn to the piece’s eye-catching, almost-gaudy shade of yellow. At the same time, however, the clear-cut edges and rigid geometry of its eight-foot-wide body imbues it with a self-containing, modern simplicity that’s ever so classy. The perfectly circular hole of the “O” is positioned such that peering through it yields a straight-on view of the nicely groomed, tree-lined sidewalks of Museum Way that are perpendicular to Cantor’s entrance.

(Photo: CARISSA LEE/The Stanford Daily)

It’s everything your average social-media-savvy 20-something-year-old wants nowadays, given that it’s elevated and “artsy” while still retaining a sense of relatability and reminiscence of pop culture. In other words, it’s the quintessential Instagram shot. More important, however, “OY/YO” occupies the blossoming intersection where elements of high culture have become accessible, where the traditionally “high brow” has artfully entangled itself with the “uncultured” masses. 

The unique beauty of “OY/YO” lies in its flexibility and universality that seemingly preserve its original meaning despite its overwhelming popularity. Sure, there are plenty of people who are solely “in it for the gram,” but it doesn’t attempt to resist or defend itself against these more shallow pursuits. The phrases “oy” and “yo” themselves are derivatives of human culture and language, begging the question: in sensationalizing the sculpture on social media do we truly disrespect its artistic origins or do we deliver right into the artist’s vision of it as something as widespread and powerful as language?

Indeed, its appeal does seem rather limitless. During my brief visit, I witnessed tourists — both foreign and American — posing with it, swaths of children running around (and atop) it, and passerby of all ages inevitably turning their heads to regard it with some natural curiosity. Personally, I found that it made the Cantor feel less aloof and imposing. On a sunny California afternoon, the glowing yellow silhouette is an exceptional mood brightener: a friendly, quirky reminder of the simpler things in life. 

Arriving just in time for the turn of the decade, Deborah Kass’ “OY/YO” is a welcome celebration of diversity, openness, communication and interconnectedness that not only represents a new era for the Cantor, but so too reflects current attitudes on campus. It is, to put it quite simply, a refreshing salute to inclusivity.

Contact Carissa Lee at carislee ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Carissa Lee '22 is a writer for Arts & Life's Culture beat, an account manager for The Daily's Ad Sales team, and a member of the Social Media team. Her primary interests include Oxford commas, visual arts, and the culinary world--hence her passion for all things Arts & Life. When she's not obsessively scrolling through "Bon Appetit's" Instagram feed or going on long runs at 6 am to feel "productive," she is studying to major in Human Biology, with the intent to pursue a medical degree. Contact her anytime at carislee 'at' stanford.edu.