Growing up in the New York art world, I had many conversations with the collector Roy Neuberger, mostly at the home of our mutual friends, the Mortimer Berkowitzes.
Neuberger used to goad me that I should marry his daughter when I grew up, the import of which eluded my 12-year-old self. On the art side, he was often eager to discuss his latest acquisitions with the soft-spoken connoisseurship of the post war collectors who created the New York art world we know today.
Four decades later, nostalgia and curiosity guided me to the campus of SUNY Purchase to see "103 Artists from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection," on view at that University’s Neuberger Museum of Art, July 9-Sept. 3, 2006.
The sprawling Purchase campus, full of Soviet-style dorms and class buildings on long vistas that require a car or bike to navigate, has a first class collection of outdoor sculpture, including a demure Henry Moore couple and a fantastic Jonathan Borofsky series of running red men.
Inside the cozy museum, Roy Neuberger’s tastes are well served by the current show, which emphasizes artists such as Robert Goodnough, Carl Holty and Conrad Marca-Relli, who have been subsumed by the current star-centric view of contemporary art history.
That means that there are bad, merely interesting, surprising and excellent paintings in the survey of a man who collected for his own walls and his own eyes, not the opinions and pocketbooks of others.
An awkward Milton Avery, for example, Woman Walking by the Sea, highlights an atypically weird image for this minimal landscape artist, a clumsy, lumpy figure. There’s a whale-like abstraction from Gregory Amenoff, Heart of the Matter, and an extremely elegant Gaston Lachaise bust, Head of a Poet. The Pollock, a forest-like dripper, Green Number 8, is truly first-rate.
Those that like a contained William Baziotes abstraction, a feminine orange and white Mark Rothko, or a deeply effeminate Charles Sheeler study of flowers (!) will find these at the Neuberger. Compared to these times, the ‘60s were a bargain basement of future classics (Cornell boxes at $600 apiece, for example) so Neuberger’s tastes rise and fall on his judgment alone. How the Rubells or DeWoodys or Newhouses would love to teleport backwards and cherry pick masterpieces in that benign era!
The Neuberger summer show is actually an hors d’oeuvre for the grand reinstallation of gentleman Roy’s entire collection on Sept. 17, 2006. In the meantime, one could do worse than to sample two different barber shops in this collection, one by Stuart Davis, another by Edward Hopper, created in 1930 and 1931.
They are studies in order, solace and contemplation, reflecting the careful temperament of a man who was thoughtful enough to encourage a boy, your scribe, who loved art.
You may recoil at an ugly, pink Joan Snyder mess or giggle at Leonard Baskin’s Balzacian Poet Laureate or sigh with satisfaction at Sam Francis’ just perfect Study for Shining Back -- all reflect the integrity of Roy Neuberger, a man who drank deeply from the fountain of art.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).