LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (January 17, 2017) … On a date already deeply embedded in Muhammad Ali history—the late three-time heavyweight boxing champion and humanitarian would have been 75 years old today—the LeRoy Neiman Foundation in New York, announced the donation of a priceless assortment of “Ali-related” artwork to the Muhammad Ali Center. The collection includes the famous Athlete of the Century painting which has hung in the Ali Center’s lobby since opening in 2005, as well as nineteen other pieces, including fifteen of Ali’s original drawings which Neiman kept in his collection after The Champ gifted them to his longtime friend. The collective value of the donation is, at this time, estimated to be over a half million dollars.
Athlete of the Century, the larger than life oil painting of Ali, was based on sketches Mr. Neiman made in 1964. This was the transition period when then Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became the heavyweight champion for the first time at 22 years old. The painting bursts with color and vitality and brings to life the Ali who, as was frequently said “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.” The late LeRoy Neiman once said, “All of my experiences and observations of Ali are summed up in this portrait. This painting is for me the quintessential, colorful, confident Ali. It shows his fighting face, with that theatrical flair, that is so familiar to the world and epitomizes a career that extended to a public far beyond the boxing ring.” Athlete of the Century was also the artwork chosen by the Ali Center in 2005 to appear on its grand opening posters.
In addition to this massive 56” x 80” framed painting, the LeRoy Neiman Foundation is also donating nineteen other valuable and highly cherished art that includes: fifteen originals by Muhammad Ali, in a combination of pastel, water color, pen, marker, pen, and crayon, all created between 1964 and 2005; two pieces done by Ali’s father, Cassius Clay, Sr.; one by Ali’s ex-wife Belinda; and one that Ali ‘and a friend’ drew as a gift for Mr. Neiman.
This donation is of particular relevance because Neiman and Ali were friends for 50-some years. The two greats first met in 1962 in the dressing room of St. Nicholas Arena in New York City. Neiman sketched the young boxer, Cassius Clay, sitting on the rubbing table. Clay immediately showed his own interest in art by asking to make a drawing of himself at the bottom of the page. This was the beginning of a long relationship between the artist and the prize fighter.
Steven Bond, President of the LeRoy Neiman Foundation, said, “In honor of what would have been Ali’s 75th birthday, on behalf of LeRoy’s widow, Janet Neiman and the Board of the LeRoy Neiman Foundation, I am pleased to make the Muhammad Ali Center the permanent home of ‘Muhammad Ali: Athlete of the Century.’ In relocating all of these pieces—restoring them to their proper context—we hope to not only shed some light on some of Ali’s lesser known creative endeavors but also afford the drawings the admiration that they deserve.”
Since opening in 2005, the 3600 sq. ft. LeRoy Neiman Gallery inside the Ali Center, which features 63 Neiman prints featuring Ali, has been one of the favorite spots for guests visiting the Louisville-based international cultural center, which also includes an award-winning museum.
Donald Lassere, President and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center, said, “What a poignant, timely and prized gift the Center has received today at a time we are reflecting upon and celebrating The Greatest’s legacy and birth date. We are extremely grateful to the LeRoy Neiman Foundation and their leadership for this unexpected and enormous donation. I am sure that LeRoy and Muhammad are smiling down upon us today.”
In addition to the artwork donation, the LeRoy Neiman Foundation stated that in coming years, they intend to develop more art education programming in Ali’s hometown of Louisville as a way to foster artistic development on the part of children who might not otherwise have access to it. The leadership of both the LeRoy Neiman Foundation and Muhammad Ali Center are thrilled to be engaging in a partnership that celebrates the incredible legacies of two great friends, and two great champions.
NOTE: Today is also International Mentoring Day, and the Ali Center welcomes mentors to bring their mentees to explore its 2-1/2 levels of award-winning exhibits- including a brand new Ali Tribute Exhibit, entitled Inspiration to Action. Mentors will be admitted for $5 and mentees for free.
About the LeRoy Neiman Foundation
The LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation seeks to perpetuate the legacy and philanthropic spirit of LeRoy Neiman, and to advance and share the impact of his life, his ideals and artwork in the US and throughout the world. The Foundation supports organizations that promote the study, improvement and advancement of the arts and provide opportunities for at-risk youth to develop paths to successful futures.
LeRoy and Janet Neiman established the LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation in 1986 to help facilitate their philanthropic goals.
The Muhammad Ali Center, a 501(c)3 corporation, was co-founded by Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The international cultural center promotes the six core principles of Muhammad Ali (Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality) in ways that inspire personal and global greatness and provides programming and events around the focus areas of education, gender equity, and global citizenship. Its newest initiative, Generation Ali, fosters a new generation of leaders to contribute positively to their communities and to change the world for the better. The Center’s headquarters also contains an award-winning museum experience. For more information, please visit www.alicenter.org
Senior Director of Public Relations and External Affairs