President George W. Bush presented Roy R. Neuberger, 104, one of America’s foremost art patrons and philanthropists, and founder of the Purchase College Neuberger Museum of Art, with the 2007 National Medal of Arts on November 15 in an East Room ceremony. The President was joined by First Lady Laura Bush, Mrs. Lynne Cheney, Dana Gioia, Chairperson, National Endowment for the Arts, and Dr. Bruce Cole, Chairperson, National Endowment for the Humanities.
At the ceremony, President Bush said, “Our honorees represent the great strength and diversity of the American culture. Your accomplishments remind us that freedom of thought and freedom of expression are two pillars of our democracy. These freedoms have helped our nation build some of the finest centers of learning in the world. They've helped inspire new movements in art and literature. And they've helped fill our libraries and museums and theaters with great works for all our citizens to enjoy.”
The citation recognized Mr. Neuberger “for his longstanding personal patronage of America’s young and emerging visual artists. His keen eye and generous support have enriched American art.”
For over half a century, Mr. Neuberger has supported emerging artists, encouraged a trend of corporate collecting, and donated important works to and financially supported dozens of art institutions. In 1969 at the request of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, he donated a significant portion of his collection—more than 900 works of mid-20th century American art—to New York State to establish the Neuberger Museum of Art. Today, the Museum houses over 6,000 works of modern, contemporary and African art.
“The timing of this award is particularly meaningful,” said Thomas J. Schwarz, President of Purchase College, “as this is the fortieth anniversary of the founding of Purchase College by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. We join the rest of the nation in applauding Mr. Neuberger for his great gift of art to the American public. Designed by Philip Johnson, the Neuberger Museum of Art was the first building constructed on this campus. We are honored and proud to have this magnificent collection for everyone to enjoy.”
“The award is the long overdue national recognition and celebration of the Neuberger Museum of Art’s founding patron, Roy R. Neuberger, one of America’s greatest collectors and philanthropists,” said Thom Collins, Director of the Neuberger Museum of Art. “All of us at the Museum, Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art, and Purchase College are gratified and thrilled. We invite the public to enjoy the fruits of Mr. Neuberger’s extraordinary collecting which are on permanent view at the Museum in the exhibition Reframing American Art: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection.”
Starting in the mid forties, Mr. Neuberger donated thousands of paintings to museums and colleges across the country, including: the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. To provide support for the Neuberger Museum of Art, Mr. Neuberger founded the Friends of the NMA in 1972, which now raises more than 60 percent of the Museum’s annual expenses. He continues to make substantial contributions. He said, “I started giving away art because I felt strongly that I was only borrowing it.”
Mr. Neuberger also has been a tireless advocate of the visual arts. He devoted many years to the American Federation of Arts (AFA), where his leadership has been central to its success. He also served as a Whitney Museum Trustee (1961-1968) and was named Trustee Emeritus in 1969. He was elected an Honorary Trustee for Life at the Met in 1968. He acted as Chairman of the Board of the Purchase College Foundation (1974-1985), continuing as an Honorary Trustee. He was elected a Benjamin Franklin Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London (1969), a Fellow in Perpetuity of the National Academy of Design (1971), and a Fellow of the Rhode Island School of Design (1981).
A successful financier—he founded Neuberger Berman, an investment advisory firm in 1939 with Robert Berman—Mr. Neuberger made enough money early in his career to finance his great passion, art. “In the beginning, I collected art for a purpose—to help support living artists. Now I am simply a lover of art,” Mr. Neuberger once commented.
Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Met, summarized his impact: “Few living persons have served the Met—indeed the entire world of art and art museums—longer, or with more distinction than Roy Neuberger. A man of taste, passion, persistence and generosity, he has shared much of his private collection with the public, and for generations has supported activities that bring people to museums and motivate them to return again and again.”