“Enough already!” are the last words one would ever hear from property developer Martin Z. Margulies when it comes to art, as he is incapable of stopping himself from buying the stuff, or expanding the premises for his collection.
The latest 10,000 square foot addition to his building in the Wynwood Design District creates a grand total of over 45,000 square feet for the display of art and makes clear that “The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse” is a permanent fixture of Miami’s cultural scene.
This extension, which was begun in January 2004 and opens to the public today, is a brand new building, unlike the other two warehouses, a former fabric-manufacturing facility and factory for airline spare parts.
Though Mr Margulies does a lot of the space planning himself, the extension was designed by Stu Cohen, the same architect he has used on all his real estate developments, creating residential luxury condominiums in Coconut Grove, Key Biscayne and Bal Harbour, north of South Beach.
If Mr Margulies’s philosophy is to keep his business entirely separate from his art collection, his ever expanding quasi-museum has certainly not hurt property values in the Wynwood district, previously a down-at-heel, rag trade warehouse zone, comparable to the old Canal Street in New York. He opened his first space here in January 1999 with a benefit for a local museum, having purchased the warehouse six months previously and built it out gallery style.
Martin Margulies apparently had no interest in art at all until the famous Scull collection sold at auction in 1973 for what were then huge prices. Noting that the Sculls had bought their Jasper Johns for $10,200, and that it sold for $240,000, Mr Margulies realised there was more to art than mere pretty pictures. “I said to myself, ‘With all these people paying big money for all these objects, there must be something to it,’ and I started sniffing around. It came to me that this could be something I would be happy doing.” Having been through the initial stages of collecting prints and visiting local galleries in Miami, the very first time Mr Margulies bid at auction he failed to get a Noguchi sculpture. But he was passed a note by Fort Worth private dealer Shaindy Fenton (advisor also to Patsy Nasher) saying, “If you’re interested in Noguchi I can get you an even better work.” Mr Fenton, who was a friend of both Noguchi and Castelli, then took Martin Margulies around the art world, who, in 1979 made his first big commitment by buying, yes, a Noguchi sculpture. Since 1982 Mr Margulies has worked with curator Katherine Hinds, initially putting together a collection of open-air sculpture on which she is an expert.
That first sculpture collection of some 55 major pieces, including LeWitt, Serra and of course Noguchi, is on extended loan to Miami’s Florida International University (FIU), where it can be enjoyed by some 45,000 students.
As Ms Hinds explains “The collection is in three locations, though a fourth location would be all the loans we have out. At any given time we have about 60 works out on loan, for example in a travelling exhibition curated from our photography collection in different locations from Mexico to the University of Florida at Gainsville.”
The primary location is Mr Margulies’s home, a penthouse condominium he had constructed on Key Biscayne. Here he has his “private works” of sculpture and painting, from early Judds and Giacometti to Rothko and Lichtenstein. There is a wonderful work by Eliasson right in his bedroom, and one of first photographs he ever purchased, by Thomas Ruff. “Mr Margulies bought that at the Chicago Art Fair in 1991 without knowing anything about the artist: he saw it, liked it and bought it from Ghislaine Hussenot” says Ms Hinds.
“After living with that photograph at home he became curious and wanted to know about this German contemporary photographer, what had influenced him, and so started reading about the Bechers, and the Düsseldorf School.” Indeed Mr Margulies’s collection of photography, one of the best known areas of his omnivorous curiosity, came about in the opposite manner to his other art, which started with Noguchi, moved on to Miró—a 1939 Constellation piece—then worked forward. With photography he started with contemporary work and then started looking for the roots of current photography.”
The Margulies photography collection now numbers well over 2,000 works and includes portfolios and suites of prints counted as one. But Ms Hinds rightly dismisses vulgar issues of quantity. “It’s impossible to give a firm number for the size of the collection because, for example, right now he’s in New York acquiring things. Mr Margulies has another residence in Manhattan and once a month he goes up and looks at all the galleries. It’s a big task to put together a collection so quickly. Most of our networking and research and art world conversations take place in New York or at European art fairs. We’re almost better known outside Miami than in the city.”
Indeed, when Mr Margulies came back from this autumn’s Frieze fair in London what really excited him were two new videos he had just bought from Marianne Boesky. The newly expanded warehouse in Miami has several theatres or video-installation rooms; there are some 35 videos in the collection and three major works are currently being screened. One by Beat Streuli (also bought by the Hirshhorn) “Amar Kanwar”: “It was a big hit at the last Documenta and took us two years to purchase; that was something we just went after, kept after, and finally got”, says Ms Hinds.
Ms Hinds resists the notion they might soon expand yet again. “Right now we have a pretty good facility here. We’ll be working more closely with the many other museums that want to do travelling shows from the collection; for example, a future exhibition of our ‘Farm Security’ photographs at the newly named Robert Rauschenberg Gallery at a Florida university.”
The last word should go to Marty Margulies himself: “When you stop learning, you stop growing. If I were just a real estate developer, I would be one boring person.”
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Miami collectors: Marty Marguiles'