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A BEACON FOR ART

by Charlie Finch
 
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I was fortunate to grow up in New York in the vibrant, art-aware 1960s, where something new grabbed you every morning and even the callowest youth could not help but being taken by visual revolution. Through my parents and their friends I got to talk with true giants: Lloyd Goodrich of the Whitney Museum, Gardner Stout of the Museum of Natural History and the great collector Roy Neuberger, who died at the age of 107 on Christmas Eve.

Neuberger basically discovered Milton Avery and picked the very best of so many other artists from the 1940s and 1950s, without regards to branding or resale. He had made much his fortune by selling RCA shares short through the stock market crash and he was close friends with the very problematic Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who made possible the Neuberger Museum, an exemplary space at SUNY Purchase. So, in his trading practices and associations, Neuberger may be said to be a small beacon for the high heat of today’s hedge fund collectors.

But, unlike many of today’s collectors who destroy world economies on a currency bet from behind gated communities in Greenwich, Neuberger was approachable, guided by his often quirky taste, which veered back and forth between the carnival abstraction of William Baziotes and Esteban Vincente to the jagged figuration of Ben Shahn and Jack Levine, and had a rough humility about who he was and what he did.

Sitting in his chair at some holiday party, Roy would always take an interest in what you did and what you thought, before advising (me, at least, age 14), to "marry my daughter." I didn’t take that advice, as I have spent a lifetime not taking the advice of my betters, to my detriment. Still, it was people like Roy who taught me by osmosis to love art and its world and to express my own eccentric opinions about it and, even in a small way, to collect it.

For most of us, art is the gift that keeps on giving and it gave to Roy for over a century, just as what he did and what he liked in the studio will keep on giving at his exceptional museum for many years to come. Roy famously bought his first Milton Avery landscape, triple-wrapped it and lugged it through a snowstorm, because he was convinced of the unknown’s artist’s genius. He knew that you are only as rich as what’s around you and what fills you with discovery and wonder. May our hyperpartied, self-regarding contemporary art world not forget him too quickly.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).


 



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