Please note this work was conceived and cast in 1967.
WORKS FROM THE DR. ROBERT AND HELEN MANDELBAUM COLLECTION
The collection of Dr. Robert and Helen Mandelbaum was built on a deeply shared affinity for intellectual discovery and pure visual delight. From the vibrant, eye-catching sculptures of Joan Miró and Alexander Calder to the undulating forms of Henry Moore, and carved African masks, each work in the collection was meant to rouse the mind and stimulate the eye. It was a profoundly personal assemblage, one that reflected the Mandelbaums’ desire to live with the best in creative expression.
Robert and Helen Mandelbaum met on board a European ocean liner in the 1940s, when Mrs. Mandelbaum was drawn to the sound of a young man playing American standards on the ship’s piano. This fortuitous meeting led to a decades-long partnership in music, theatre, and fine art, passions that were integral components of life for the Mandelbaums and their children, Beth and Ken. Dr. Mandelbaum, a humanities graduate of Wesleyan University, was a respected New York internist who loved Broadway, jazz, classical, and twentieth-century avant-garde music. The keenly intelligent Helen Mandelbaum was raised surrounded by her family’s collection of antiques and Art Deco objects, and possessed a connoisseurial eye that was sharpened through the study of art history and anthropology at Mount Holyoke College. Robert and Helen Mandelbaum’s mutual interest in the human experience, and their dedication to lifelong learning, would come to form the lifeblood of their collection.
The collectors first began to purchase works of art in the 1950s, visiting the New York studios of young, aspiring artists while concurrently purchasing German Expressionist and Modern American prints. In the 1960s, they began to devote themselves to serious collecting: early acquisitions of works by American masters such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Burchfield, and Stuart Davis–artists first introduced to Helen Mandelbaum as a student–led to prominent Post-War figures such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, and Anthony Caro. “My husband and I had complementary taste in paintings, sculpture, architecture, and archaeology,” Mrs. Mandelbaum said. “Therefore it was easy, and pleasurable, to visit museums, artists’ studios, and galleries at home and abroad.”
Collecting was, from the outset, a collaborative pursuit. The couple began their day at six o’clock in the morning at Dr. Mandelbaum’s medical practice; several days a week, they spent the afternoon eagerly browsing their favorite art galleries and exhibition venues. Through scholarship and interaction with art historians, curators, and gallerists, the Mandelbaums became known as passionate, erudite collectors. Their connoisseurship extended to a large archive devoted to artists in the collection, incorporating press clippings, exhibition catalogues, art publications, and photographs that reflected the collectors’ ongoing commitment to the trajectory of art history and their own innate appetite for learning. Helen Mandelbaum would later donate some two thousand slides and several hundred art books to the City University of New York, while continuing to expand her vast personal library.
From Social Realism and Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting and British art, the collection of Robert and Helen Mandelbaum grew and evolved as they encountered new areas of intellectual possibility. As the scope of the couple’s interests expanded, collecting became, according to Beth Mandelbaum, “one of the key aspects of their lives.” From visits to artists’ studios–in family lore, Dr. Mandelbaum convinced Mark Rothko to quit smoking–to travels throughout Europe, the United States, Africa, and the Middle East, the Mandelbaums assumed a life occupied by art and exploration. The collectors’ Brooklyn residence–a period home “with great wall space just waiting for our collection,” according to Mrs. Mandelbaum–was filled with the painting and sculpture that served as daily inspiration. Alexander Calder’s 1959 standing mobile Multicolore with Two Black Anvils featured prominently at the top of the Mandelbaums’ staircase, while Beth Mandelbaum was given the honor of maintaining Hans Arp’s bronze Chapeau-forêt to a brilliant polish.
Robert and Helen Mandelbaum believed in the power of art to stir debate and discussion. The couple regularly entertained friends, family, and fellow art enthusiasts at their residence in Brooklyn, spending hours analyzing the intricacies of works that had recently entered the collection. During travels abroad, the Mandelbaums brought their children to some of the Continent’s most treasured museums, churches, and architectural sites. On one particularly memorable visit to Belgium, Dr. Mandelbaum shared in exquisite detail a description of each panel of the Ghent Altarpiece with his children; it was this signature enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity that allowed Ken and Beth Mandelbaum to see art through their parents’ eyes. Polymaths of the art historical canon, the couple held the kind of passion for fine art that transcends geography, period, and style. When the collection was exhibited at Mount Holyoke College in 1973, professor of art Jean Harris wrote: “There is no greater excitement for me than to share the aesthetic experience of art lovers like the Mandelbaums, whose taste and admiration allows them to appreciate equally African sculptures, nineteenth-century English watercolors, and twentieth-century paintings, drawings, and prints.”
The Mandelbaums recognized the importance of sharing the fruits of their collecting in the public sphere. Indeed, it was the presence of artistic opportunities in cities such as New York that had allowed the collectors’ vision to flourish throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. They became loyal benefactors of institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, donating works in addition to providing financial support. The couple also generously lent works from their collection to exhibitions such as the Guggenheim Museum’s 1969 David Smith retrospective. Helen Mandelbaum was a highly respected and admired proponent of sharing art and culture: in the 1950s, she co-organized an exhibition for the National Council of Jewish Women, and had the honor of being invited by the curatorial staff of the Brooklyn Museum to utilize her great enthusiasm as a museum volunteer.
Following Robert Mandelbaum’s death in 1983, Helen Mandelbaum continued to follow the path of collecting she had forged across the decades–“It’s very difficult to stop!” she admitted in the catalogue to an exhibition at Mount Holyoke. Even in her later years, the collector continued to acquire new works and could be found keeping abreast of the latest developments in Contemporary art, visiting galleries and museums with friends while musing on her ongoing wish list: “Brancusi, Matisse, Picasso, Noguchi, Giacometti, Miró, Clyfford Still, and on and on.” It was this “overwhelming love of all art” that had come to define Helen Mandelbaum’s life, a passion evidenced in the collection she assembled alongside her husband. Today, the Mandelbaums are celebrated as models of the curious, intensely engaged collector, proponents of the ongoing role of fine art in illuminating the world.
WORKS FROM THE COLLECTION OF DR. ROBERT AND HELEN MANDELBAUM