Collecting Art and Accolades

January 31, 2005
Distinguished Alumnus: Nasher, left, receives honors from President Brodhead during Founders' Day ceremonies

 Distinguished Alumnus: Nasher, left, receives honors from President Brodhead during Founders' Day ceremonies Photo:Jim Wallace

 

Raymond D. Nasher '43, entrepreneur, art collector, and benefactor, was presented the 2004 Distinguished Alumni Award during Founders' Day ceremonies in September. Established in 1983 by the Duke Alumni Association, the award is presented to alumni who have made significant contributions in their own fields, in service to the university, or for the betterment of humanity. Nasher was selected from nominations made by alumni, faculty members, trustees, administrators, and students.

As an undergraduate, Nasher majored in economics, became president of the Men's Student Government Association, and was a tennis standout. He never took an art course, but he had his own Chronicle column, in which he lobbied for greater attention to art and music on campus.

After Duke, he returned to his hometown of Boston and enrolled in a graduate program at Boston University, concentrating on housing and urban development. Targeting Dallas as a good place to unleash his entrepreneurial energies, he got his start as a developer of low-cost housing and, later, of major commercial properties. A highlight was Dallas' NorthPark Center, opened in 1965, which has been widely celebrated both for its array of retailers and its aesthetic qualities. The president of the NorthPark Development Company is Nancy Nasher J.D. '79, one of his three daughters and a Duke trustee.

Nasher and his wife, Patsy Rabinowitz Nasher, resolved to build a personal art collection. They had an early interest in pre-Columbian and other ethnographic arts. From that point, they became avid collectors of modern sculpture. As Nasher recalls, "We felt strongly that it had to be art that we wanted to live with, so the works really had to become members of the family."

Focusing on such modern masters as Matisse, Moore, Giacometti, and Picasso, the Nashers collected intelligently as well as passionately. An important endorsement came in 1987, when an exhibition, titled "A Century of Modern Sculpture: The Patsy and Raymond Nasher Collection," appeared at the Dallas Museum of Art, then at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and later at museums in Madrid, Florence, and Tel Aviv. Some 100 works by more than fifty artists were on view. The Nashers have also installed sculptures at civic spaces around Dallas and lent works for exhibitions around the world.

Nasher's career, as a developer and a collector alike, testify to his love of creative thinking and his respect for workmanship. Harry S. Parker III, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and formerly director of the Dallas Museum, told Duke Magazine in 2003, "One of Ray's qualities is that he likes the big idea, the big vision. I think from the very beginning, he saw an opportunity to create a big idea, which was a comprehensive, high-quality collection of modern sculpture."

Nasher's influence reaches far and wide. Under President Lyndon Johnson, he was a delegate to the United Nations, executive director of a White House Conference on International Cooperation, a consultant to the State Department's Bureau of the Budget, and a member of a federal advisory committee on urban development. He served on the Kaiser Commission, appointed by Johnson in 1967 to report on the nation's urban areas.

George H.W. Bush tapped Nasher for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, where he served as vice chair. He has also had teaching stints at several universities, including three years at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

One of his major legacies is the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. Conceived as a serene, urban retreat for the enjoyment of modern art, it opened to great acclaim last year. In October, Duke's own Nasher Museum is scheduled to open. Ray Nasher has been the museum's guiding force and chief patron, providing Duke with not only a spectacular building, designed by internationally renowned architect Rafael Vi?oly, but also a symbolic statement about the place of the arts at the core of a great university.