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Nelson A. Rockefeller and His Daughter Mary Morgan on His Collecting

Featured excerpts from Merchants and Masterpieces (1989), The Metropolitan Museum and The Educational Broadcasting Corporation, and Nelson Rockefeller Interview (1969), NBC Universal Archive

Still images: Braque collage, The Museum of Modern Art, Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest (947.1979) Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Portrait of Michael Rockefeller, The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 2006.37.1.15.30

Transcript

Mary Rockefeller Morgan: "Primitive" art was a word that father disliked. It's a confusing word. It really means non-Western art.

Nelson A. Rockefeller: It's a direct form of expression. It comes from inside, it's simple, it's strong.

Mary Rockefeller Morgan: And in this Museum, it includes the art of Oceania and the Americas and Africa.

Father grew up looking at beautiful things, and his parents were very conscious about his seeing beautiful things. And I think that environment had a lot to do with his sensibilities. Grandmother was responsible for that freedom that Father felt, in terms of his own artistic taste. I think he picked up Grandmother's adventuresome spirit, her sense of daring to move as a woman, in a time where women really didn't step outside of the family. She started the Museum of Modern Art with two other ladies.

Father and my mother went around the world on their honeymoon, for a whole year. They went all through China, Micronesia, Polynesia, Melanesia, Australia. When he worked for President Roosevelt, as coordinator of inter-American affairs, he was all over South America.

René d'Harnoncourt was his great friend. And he was a great friend of many artists in Mexico. And the two of them traveled together, and it was the two of them together that conceived of the idea of the museum, the Museum of Primitive Art. But it came out of Father's love of these objects.

Father's mission behind his collection was that this art be accepted as one of the great artistic expressions in the world. Father had already been collecting for— for years, when we were born. My twin brother Michael was insatiably curious about beautiful things. Father and Michael were dyslexic. And along with dyslexic problems comes, usually, a real visual sense.

They had what Mother called the "arranger's" disease. Whenever they went into any place, they were constantly interested in how the objects were placed. And I can remember when I was a little girl, we went once to Mrs. Astor's for lunch, and Father just went right into her living room and started rearranging her furniture and her—the objects that she had.

So collecting, in a way, was an outlet for both of the to express themselves and express their artistic natures.

Nelson A. Rockefeller: I remember this Braque collage that I had, which is an abstract painting, from the time he was very little, was his favorite painting. Which indicated his direction and taste and the simplicity and the strength of his own feelings and tastes in art.

Mary Rockefeller Morgan: So that when Michael said he wanted to go to New Guinea, Father was very excited about it.

Nelson A. Rockefeller: So he wanted to go back and have a chance to explore further, document the material he was finding, and particularly, to talk to the artists, to find out how it related to their culture and the meaning of the objects which they were working on.

Mary Rockefeller Morgan: Michael was an artist. He was also a wonderful photographer. That's one of the things that he did when he was in New Guinea and the Asmat, which the southern coast of New Guinea.

Nelson A. Rockefeller: The last visit we had together was going out to a rally, a political rally in Brooklyn. And we rode out in a car together and he'd just gotten the contact prints. And his complete enthusiasm and excitement and identification with what he had seen and shared out there was a very thrilling and total experience, as far as both he was concerned in the area, and for both of us together.

Mary Rockefeller Morgan: The thing that made it possible for us to accept Michael's death was that his life really continued in this gift that he brought back from New Guinea. And that the work he did there was going to continue in this wing, by having it become part of one of the greatest collections of art in the world, which is here in the Metropolitan Museum. It became very obvious that the wing should be named after Michael.

Collections, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and The Americas (14)