Sunday, December 10, 2017

When Modern was Contemporary

When the presence of their new-born son (me) made it impossible for my family to continue art business from the one bedroom apartment they had occupied since they arrived in this country they took a small gallery space at 32 East 57th Street. It grew to a full floor of the building and then a second floor as well.  A late- comer to the building was Arnold Glimcher’s Pace Gallery which eventually took over most of the building.  So it became known as the Pace building though I would regularly tease Arnie that it should really be known as the Rosenberg & Stiebel building. I must admit that is not as catchy sounding!

Pace often left crates in the downstairs hallway waiting to be picked up and I started to notice the name Roy Neuberger on a number of them and was always curious - with an inheritance from his parents who died when he was 12 Roy Neuberger (1903-2010) spent years leading a bohemian life in Paris.  He came back to the States, became a financier and co-founder of the investment firm of Neuberger Berman.

In Paris he became well acquainted with the Louvre and brought a love of art back to the States with him.  In 1939 he bought his first painting and became friendly with Nelson Rockefeller.  In 1967, as Governor of New York, Rockefeller  established the New York State University system. He convinced Neuberger to give what eventually numbered 500 works to a new museum designed by Philip Johnson on the on the NY State University campus in Purchase, NY. It was named the Neuberger Museum.

The travelling exhibition “When Modern was Contemporary”, currently at the Albuquerque Art Museum, presents selections from the Neuberger collection.  The title “When Modern was Contemporary” is brilliant because contemporary ceases to be contemporary quite quickly. Today we refer to much of the art of the 20th century as Modern,  though Neuberger bought what was contemporary.

In a vitrine at the center of the first section of the show is Roy Neuberger’s “Black Book” in which he recorded his acquisitions.   In my family gallery my father kept a black book almost identical to this with one inventory item per page but it was handwritten.  My father called the sheets “laufzettel”, which translates literally as walking or running slips, on which he put the inventory number, object title, information about the piece including those clients interested.  Unfortunately, when the computer came in and my father had died we went to digital information without paper records.

Neuberger was interested in documenting the artists of his time as well as supporting them.  It did not matter if the artist was of a racial minority as long as the art seemed important to him.  One of my favorite artists is Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000).   In the first section of the show is a guache by him, “In the Evening Evangelists Preach and Sing on Street Corners”, 1943.  Lawrence is best known for his “Migration” series (1940-41), which the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C and Museum of Modern Art in New York agreed to divide when it was on view at the Downtown Gallery in New York.  Lawrence was the first African American to be represented by a major gallery.  Other black artists are also represented in the Neuberger exhibition including Romare Bearden.

Tucked high in a corner of the Albuquerque installation is an Alexander Calder (1898-1976) mobile titled “The Red Ear”, 1957.  Calder also made large stabiles but is known as the inventor of the mobile.  This is the only one that Neuberger bought.  I wondered why such an important piece wasn’t front and center but then I noticed the lighting creating shadows on the wall which actually give the piece far more prominence than if it had just been hanging in the middle.

Will Barnet (1911-2012), lived to a ripe old age but his portraits always seem youthful.  Here is “Child Reading-Yellow”, of 1967.  The subject of family informed a great deal of this artist’s mature work.  Maybe the reason I identify so with this image of a girl reading in bed is because my daughter could always be found with a book in her hand be it in bed, in an armchair, or even in the bath.  As I have written before today she owns and runs a bookstore!

As evidence of Neuberger’s ecumenical approach to collecting is the painting by the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) representing “A Woman Spinning”, 1943.  Tamayo was well travelled and learned from the Cubists, but also used pre-Columbian and Mexican forms. Yet his work is truly his own and recognizable without too much difficulty.  He became one of the most universally recognizable Mexican artists of the 20th century.

My final illustration out of the many I could have chosen is a late picture by another major figure of the 20th century Marsden Hartley (1877-1943).  “Fisherman’s Last Supper”, Nova Scotia, 1940.    Hartley traveled to Nova Scotia in 1935 and stayed with a family called Mason.  They took him in and made a very pleasant home for him.  He became particularly close to their two sons who tragically died in a boating accident the following year.  Overcome by grief, Hartley not only painted “Fisherman’s Last Supper” but wrote a poem with the same title.  Neuberger bought the painting shortly after Hartley’s death and in in his own words, “When I brought it home I felt that I now had an American masterpiece.”

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