Tribute: Remembering Roy Neuberger

Robert Neuberger

Roy Neuberger was “quite a guy” concludes his New York Times obituary.  He passed away during the holidays at the age of 107, after what his daughter-in-law Helen Stambler Neuberger told me was  “an extraordinary life.”  Extraordinary indeed!

Roy Neuberger was the epitome of an arts patron. You might say he was a “Medici.” Like the Italian family that supported such great artists as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci during their time, Neuberger updated that model by supporting such brilliant 20th Century artists as Jasper Johns, Milton Avery and Willem de Kooning. How he did it was by buying the work of artists during their lifetime, which is of course the supreme validation for an artist. “It broke his heart that someone who was so talented saw himself as a failure,” said his son Jim Neuberger. It became his mission in life to support struggling artists, his son Jim affirmed. In doing so, he positioned the artist as the center of the art world.
Make no mistake, Roy Neuberger was an entrepreneur whose investment acumen built a formidable financial empire called Neuberger Berman. His “eye” for art was as sharp as his eye for a good stock. Unlike the stocks however,  he never wanted to sell the art.  He wanted the art to be accessible to generations. Thus he gifted it to more than 70 institutions in his lifetime and, most fortunately for Westchester County,  the major part of his collection became the foundation for the Neuberger Museum of Art, which was established on the campus of Purchase College at SUNY in 1974.

What does that mean to us?  Well for starters, this brilliant collection is close by for us to enjoy.  Others from around the world travel to Westchester to see it, making Westchester an important stop for art connoisseurs and other trendsetters.  Many of the artists whose works are in the collection remain stakeholders connected to the museum and to the college.  Most important to future generations is that the museum is used for educational purposes — a living laboratory for arts students and as a training ground for emerging  curators and others in the arts industry, thanks to the vision of College President Tom Schwartz and the board of the Neuberger, led by its President Helen Neuberger and the Purchase College Foundation, led by Emily Grant.

Roy Neuberger’s extraordinary life is a lesson for us all, especially for those in the business world who seek to combine their entrepreneurial talents in a way that also benefits the greater good. Holding tightly to his vision,  Neuberger never lost sight of his life’s enduring principles: his love of art and reverence for art makers, and his belief that great art should be shared by making it accessible to the public.  For those of us who just love and support the arts, but don’t aspire to a grand collection, Roy Neuberger’s life is a reminder that in the food chain of the art world, it is the artist who is the grower, the producer, the inventor, the innovator. Roy Neuberger’s life well lived is after all a metaphor about the importance of the artist without whom there would be no art world.