When Modern was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection
The Neuberger Museum of Art opened its doors 40 years ago on the Purchase College campus as a cultural and intellectual center for modern, contemporary, and African art. It had been the dream of New York’s then-Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to build a world-class art museum on the campus to enrich the life of the college and local community. Rockefeller turned to financier
Roy R. Neuberger to donate part of his collection to establish the museum’s holdings. In 1969, Neuberger donated over 100 works from his extensive art collection, considered by many to have been the most important private collection of contemporary American art in the world, and became the Museum’s founding patron. Over the years, Neuberger continued to donate works from his collection to the Museum, now numbering over 800, forming the core of its collection. Today, the Neuberger Museum of Art has grown to more than 7,000 artworks, which include the art of Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
In celebration of its 40th anniversary year, the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College has organized When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection, an exhibition of some of the finest works in the Roy R. Neuberger Collection – works by Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder, Arthur Dove, Helen Frankenthaler, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, David Smith, and others. Built mainly between the early 1940s and the 1960s, the Collection is strongest in works that document the evolution of modernism in the visual arts of North America. Remarkably, the majority of the objects Neuberger acquired at the height of his collecting were purchased within a month to a year or two of their execution dates, reflecting his commitment to support living artists. When Modern Was Contemporary, which also includes materials related to Roy R. Neuberger’s life and work as a collector, donor, and arts advocate, will be on view from May 11 through December 25. It is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, SUNY and curated by Chief Curator Tracy Fitzpatrick.
To mark the Museum’s 40th Anniversary, the Museum is publishing its first permanent collection catalogue, the Museum’s first comprehensive, scholarly study of fifty of the most significant works of American modernist art in the Roy R. Neuberger Collection. “The Roy R. Neuberger Collection reveals the passionate interests of one of the twentieth century’s most important collectors of contemporary art,” notes Dr. Fitzpatrick, who edited and organized the book, which contains contributions by Neuberger curators, Purchase College faculty, and independent scholars. “Although I have worked with the Roy R. Neuberger Collection as a curator of modern art for many years, it was not until I began this project that I understood fully the importance of the objects in the collection in terms of the man who acquired them and donated them to the Neuberger Museum of Art,” Dr. Fitzpatrick writes in the catalogue. “ “Mr. Neuberger was one of the 20th century’s most important collectors of contemporary art and this collection is one of the best of its kind.”
Among the 50 works on view:
MILTON AVERY, Walker by the Sea: a fine example of the artist’s use of flattened, stylized planes of color that express mood and meaning. Said Avery, “I strip the design to its essentials;”
ALEXANDER CALDER, Snake on Arch: one of two known casts from a group of bronze sculptures that Calder created in 1944, through which Calder explored form, mass, and movement. This was one of the first sculptures to enter the Roy R. Neuberger Collection. Also a birthday present that Calder gave Neuberger—of drawing of the sculpture with the collector’s head on top.
RICHARD DIEBENKORN, Girl on a Terrace: A fine example of the artist’s figurative work, which he developed in late 1955 after he abandoned abstraction. In this piece, a solitary figure gazes at the wide vista of an empty northern California landscape.
ARTHUR DOVE, Holbrook’s Bridge to the Northwest: Rhythmic, expansive, and dynamic, Dove’s repeated shapes propel outward toward the frame. This was one of Roy Neuberger’s favorite paintings: “...An impeccable picture, close to being absolutely perfect...it has usually been in my sight and always in my consciousness,” he once wrote.
LYONEL FEININGER, High Houses II: “It’s actually a Paris scene,” commented Roy Neuberger when describing the painting that he acquired in 1950. Reminiscent of the Cubists, “the image depicts several tall, unsteady structures that huddle toward the composition’s center. Sharp angled, transparent planes sluice through the pictoral space, unifying ground and sky, integrating architecture with leafless trees and figures,” writes Jane Kromm in the catalogue.
HELEN FRANKENTHALER, Mount Sinai: An example of the artist’s early work, this painting was made as the artist began to move away from modernism to using her signature staining technique. Its dynamic forms suggest the mountain itself and the divine revelation that took place on it.
EDWARD HOPPER, The Barber Shop: This is the largest work Hopper ever created. As was his wont, Hopper paints a moment frozen in time – the interior of a barber shop in which a brilliant shaft of light illuminates a manicurist reading a magazine and a barber as he tends to his customer. A complex and dramatic composition, Hopper conveys the isolation and disconnection between the figures, and captures the experience of human isolation in the modern city.
JACKSON POLLOCK, Number 8 1949 is one of the great examples of the well-known artist’s work. Neuberger purchased it before the artist was famous because he liked what he saw and because he was told Pollock did not have enough money to pay his bills.
MARK ROTHKO, Old Gold Over White is a signature painting, composed of soft-edged, shimmering rectangles that appear to float on the canvas. Rothko, one of the major figures of Abstract Expressionism and among the most important artists of his generation, conceived a radically abstract style that employed luminous blocks of color. He said his vibrant reds, oranges, gold – and later maroons, olives and blacks expressed “basic human emotions– tragedy, ecstasy, and doom...”
Recognized with the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts in
2007 for “his longstanding personal patronage of America’s young and emerging visual artists,” Roy R. Neuberger spent his life as a self-described “passionate collector.” Inspired by the plight of contemporary artists, who often found it challenging to sell or find audiences for their work, he became a savvy businessman who recognized that the building of his collection was an essential part of his lifelong mission.
“I didn’t realize that I could have been a catalyst to the extent that I was,” he once commented. “It was sheer love of objects and love of some of the artists that I knew, and knew they were great, that made me so enthusiastic that I was able to sell the idea to hundreds of other people, who in turn sold the idea to thousands of other people.”
While he had not completed college, Neuberger had a profound and vested interest in higher education and the ways in which learning can occur by looking at art. That was the final motivation in donating part of his collection in 1969 to seed the future museum on the Purchase College campus.
Generous support for the When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection exhibition is provided by Marvin and Donna Schwartz, Neuberger Berman, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art. Support for the exhibition catalogue is provided by Helen Stambler Neuberger and Jim Neuberger, and the National Endowment for the Arts, along with Marvin and Donna Schwartz, Neuberger Berman, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art.