Mississippi Hosts Neuberger Masterpieces

JACKSON, MISS.- Revealing the pursuits of one of the twentieth century’s most important collectors, the American Federation of Arts (AFA) and the Neuberger Museum of Art present When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection, the first traveling exhibition of this groundbreaking collection of American modern art in over forty years.

Roy R. Neuberger was a devoted champion of the art of his time, and he acquired works by a remarkable selection of modern masters, including Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Marsden Hartley, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and numerous others.

Despite some regressive anti-gay laws recently enacted, Mississippi -- at least for the being -- offers one of the country's most sophisticated art shows.

The first venue on this unprecedented traveling tour is the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, which hosts the exhibition from April 9 – October 30, 2016.

“It is our great pleasure to host this incredible exhibition featuring work by so many of the Twentieth Century’s most dynamic and revered artists,” said Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “Never before in Mississippi have artworks by this inimitable group of creators shared a museum exhibition space; we’re honored to make them available to visual art explorers from across the region and beyond.”

With paintings and sculptures from 52 of the era’s most influential artists, When Modern Was Contemporary illuminates the artistic transformations that took place in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century, while also exploring Neuberger’s considerable role as a collector of and advocate for the work of his artistic contemporaries.

Passion for Art

Born in Connecticut, financier Roy R. Neuberger (1903–2010) developed his passion for art while in Paris in the 1920s.

After reading Vincent van Gogh’s biography, he was struck by the fact that Van Gogh died in poverty, yet after his death the artist’s paintings achieved ever higher prices. Neuberger’s credo, “the contemporary world should buy the work of contemporary artists,” would guide him as a collector, and he often purchased works soon after their creation.

Neuberger returned to New York in 1929 and went to work for a Wall Street brokerage firm before founding his own firm in 1939. He once noted, “I have not collected art as an investor would, I collect art because I love it.”

By 1950, the center of the avant-garde art world had shifted from Paris to New York, and Neuberger was the most important collector focusing on contemporary American art in the country.

Concentrating on the patronage of living and often under-recognized artists, Neuberger was far ahead of his time in appreciating the talents of soon-to-be canonical figures such as Jackson Pollock, and his practice of donating works to museums ensured that both emblematic and lesser-known, though important, artists could be viewed in public collections. Committed to making contemporary art more accessible, Neuberger joined the AFA in 1946, and served as president of the Board of Trustees from 1958 to 1967. In 1969, he gave much of his valuable collection to the State University of New York to found the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College.

“Given Roy R. Neuberger’s longstanding association with the AFA, we are extraordinarily proud to tour this magnificent collection,” AFA Director Pauline Willis noted. “It is an honor to work with the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College. We are inspired by Neuberger’s commitment to arts advocacy and look forward to bringing his collection to museums across the nation.”

New Scholarship

When Modern Was Contemporary is the result of new scholarship and interpretation undertaken by the Neuberger Museum since Roy R. Neuberger’s death in 2010, at the age of 107.

Viewing the collection and its collector in tandem for the first time, the exhibition provides unique insight into the period when the history of modern art in America was being made.

Drawing from the collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art, When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection surveys the development of modern art in the U.S., from representational modes in the early years of the 20th century through the Abstract Expressionist revolution at mid-century.

The exhibition begins with works by artists who built upon European precedents, including paintings such as Max Weber’s La Parisienne (1907), with sinuous lines inspired by Matisse, and Joseph Stella’s Gas Tank, Pittsburgh (American Landscape) (1918), which freely samples from Cubism and Futurism to depict the vibrancy of an American city. Georgia O’Keeffe, in her Lake George by Early Moonrise (1930), and Arthur Dove, exploring shape and color in his Holbrook’s Bridge to the Northwest (1938), are inspired by organic forms in the American landscape, while industry is celebrated in paintings such as Ralston Crawford’s At the Dock (1941) and Charles Sheeler’s The Web (1955), a conceptual view of industrial structures.

The collection’s masterworks of Abstract Expressionism include Jackson Pollock’s Number 8, 1949, an exemplary “drip” painting, and Willem de Kooning’s Marilyn Monroe (1954), the only named figure in the artist’s groundbreaking Woman series.

Selected by Neuberger

Neuberger selected each work for the collection himself, taking artists and artworks on their individual merits, a fact evidenced by the notable diversity of the artists he supported.

Works by exceptional masters such as Marsden Hartley, represented by the iconic Fishermen’s Last Supper, Nova Scotia (1940–41), and Horace Pippin, represented by a classic Cabin in the Cotton (1944), as well as significant sculptures by Harry Bertoia, Alexander Calder, David Smith, and others, are among numerous highlights.

When Modern Was Contemporary also exhibits rarely seen archival material, including contributions made by artists to albums presented to Neuberger for his fiftieth and seventy-fifth birthdays and receipts for purchases of artworks, offering unique views into the development of the collection, the artist-patron relationship, and the workings of the art world.

Following the presentation at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, the exhibition travels to the Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida, (December 2, 2016–January 29, 2017); Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, (February 26–May 21, 2017); Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, New Mexico, (September 30–December 31, 2017).

Photo above : Georgia O’Keeffe, Lake George by Early Moonrise, 1930. oil and gouache on canvas. 24 x 36 in. (61 x 91.4 cm). Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, Gift of Roy R. Neuberger, 1970.02.26. © 2015 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Jim Frank. Courtesy American Federation of Arts.