When Modern Was Contemporary

Claire Ertl
Director of Marketing & Public Relations
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art
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Barbara L. Jones
Chief Curator
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art
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GREENSBURG, PA, Wednesday, February 8, 2017 – The Westmoreland Museum of American Art will present When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection from February 25 through May 21, 2017. Drawing from the seminal collection of financier Roy R. Neuberger (1903–2010), When Modern Was Contemporary surveys the development of modern art in the U.S., from representational modes in the early years of the twentieth century through the Abstract Expressionist revolution at mid-century. The exhibition features 52 works by renowned American artists, including Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Marsden Hartley, Lee Krasner, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and many others. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held at The Westmoreland on Saturday, March 4 from 6:30-8pm. Tickets for the reception are available at thewestmoreland.org/events and are $10 for Museum members and $15 for non-members. This traveling exhibition was curated by Tracy Fitzpatrick, Director of the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, SUNY and is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, SUNY.
Roy R. Neuberger, one of the twentieth century’s most important collectors, built a groundbreaking collection of American modern art, the full impact of which is only now being assessed. Recognizing the significance of the art of his own time, Neuberger acquired work by a remarkable selection of modern masters. Often buying work shortly after it was created, with no intention of reselling, Neuberger was at the forefront of collecting art by soon-to-be-canonical artists. He purchased his Pollock from the artist’s November 1949 exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery after Parsons phoned him and said, “Roy, you know that painting you liked in the Jackson Pollock show? Would you entertain buying it? He needs money desperately.” Neuberger was also far ahead of his time in recognizing artists such as Forrest Bess and Hedda Sterne, who have gained in stature only in recent years. His practice of donating works to museums ensured that both emblematic and lesser-known artists could be viewed in public collections. In 1969, Neuberger donated much of his invaluable collection to the State University of New York to found the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College. The exhibition When Modern Was Contemporary is the result of new scholarship and interpretation undertaken by the Museum since Neuberger’s death in 2010, at the age of 107. Viewing the collection and its collector in tandem, the exhibition provides unique insight into the period when the history of modern art in America was being made. When Modern Was Contemporary introduces new audiences to Neuberger’s collection and, for the first time, elucidates his important contribution to one of the most fertile periods in American art.
The exhibition begins with work by artists who built upon European precedents, including 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. 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 (1940) and Charles Sheeler’s The Web (Croton Dam) (1955), a conceptualization of industrial structures. The collection’s masterworks of Abstract Expressionism include Pollock’s Number 8, 1949 (1949), an exemplary “drip” painting, and de Kooning’s Marilyn Monroe (1954), the only named figure in the artist’s groundbreaking Woman series. Neuberger selected each work for the collection himself, taking artists and artworks on their individual merits, a fact evidenced by the notable diversity of artists he supported. Hartley, represented by the iconic Fishermen’s Last Supper, Nova Scotia (1940), and Horace Pippin, represented by a classic Cabin in the Cotton (1944), as well as significant sculptures by Harry Bertoia, Calder, David Smith and others are among numerous highlights.
Exhibition Credit
When Modern Was Contemporary was curated by Tracy Fitzpatrick, Director of the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, State University of New York and is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, SUNY.
Neuberger Berman is the national tour sponsor. Additional support is provided by the JFM Foundation and Mrs. Donald M. Cox. In-kind support is provided by Christie’s. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. Generous support for the original presentation and the accompanying catalogue was provided by Helen Stambler Neuberger and Jim Neuberger. Sotheby’s has provided in-kind support to the Neuberger Museum.
Support for the local presentation of the exhibition was provided by the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art and The Tomahawk Hill Foundation.
More About the Collector
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.
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 of Purchase College.
About the Curator   
Tracy Fitzpatrick is Director of the Neuberger Museum of Art and an Associate Professor of Art History at Purchase College, SUNY. She is responsible for the Museum’s first in-depth study of the Roy R. Neuberger collection. Fitzpatrick has written, curated, and taught widely on American art of the twentieth century. Her exhibitions include American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s (2010) and Hannah Wilke: Gestures (2008). Her book Art and the Subway: New York Underground (Rutgers University Press) was released in May 2009.
About the American Federation of Arts
The American Federation of Arts is the leader in traveling exhibitions internationally. A nonprofit organization founded in 1909, the AFA is dedicated to enriching the public’s experience and understanding of the visual arts through organizing and touring art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishing exhibition catalogues featuring important scholarly research, and developing educational programs.
About the Neuberger Museum of Art
The Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, is the premier museum of modern, African, and contemporary art in the Westchester/Fairfield County area. An outstanding arts and education institution, the Museum was conceived with the dual purpose of serving both as an important cultural resource to its regional, national, and international audiences, and as an integral part of Purchase College. Support for the Museum’s collection, exhibitions, publications, and education programs is provided by grants from public and private agencies, individual contributions, the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art and its Board of Directors, the Purchase College Foundation, the State University of New York.
About The Westmoreland Museum of American Art
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, located at 221 N. Main Street in Greensburg, PA, completed a transformational renovation and expansion project in October of 2015. A new LEED-certified addition of over 13,000 square feet features a dynamic cantilevered design along with a stunning view of the City of Greensburg and the Laurel Highlands beyond. The Westmoreland’s permanent collection is comprised of works by major American artists from the 18th century through the present, with a special emphasis on Southwestern Pennsylvania art and artists. The Museum also offers an impressive schedule of temporary exhibitions of American art – both nationally-travelling and those organized in house – as well as special events and community-oriented educational programming for all ages.
More information is available at thewestmoreland.org.