A real estate developer tells how he purchases art, and why
Published in: Art Basel Magazine
Date: December 2014

In the bar of the Hotel Americano in Chelsea, Marty
Margulies is having a cranberry juice before starting a
gallery crawl befitting a man half his age. First up for
Margulies, 76, is the Loretta Howard Gallery, where Irving
Sandler has brought to together works by Alice Neel, Alex
Katz, Philip Pearlstein and other one-time denizens of the
East Village. Riding in the elevator to Howard’s fourth-
floor space, he teases his old friend Mark di Suvero. “I
heard you weren’t coming,” Margulies says, eyes
twinkling. “That’s why I came.” A few minutes later,
Margulies crosses the street, to Mitchell-Innes & Nash,
where Justine Kurland is having an opening. Margulies
owns more than dozen Kurland photographs. Of the
current work, “I’ll probably buy two or three,” he says.
“You’ve got to be supportive.” But the gallery is crowded,
and Margulies, who prefers looking at art to schmoozing
artists, says, “I can’t take in the show. I’ll have to come
back here to see it.” After hugging Kurland, he heads
around the corner to the Marianne Boesky Gallery, where
he is quickly ushered away from the madding crowd and into a
small conference room with Roxy Paine. The two chat
amicably, but Margulies doesn’t stay long; two of his four
children are meeting him back at Loretta Howard and then
accompanying him to the obligatory opening night dinner.
From there, he’ll return to his apartment, decorated with
half a dozen works by the likes of Callum Innes, Donald
Baechler, and Edvins Strautmanis.

The New York pied-a-terre is nothing like his
11,000-square-foot condo in the Grand Bay of Key
Biscayne, one of 40 or so buildings Margulies has built
in the Miami area. As Grand Bay’s developer, he is
familiar with the fire alarm system, the sprinklers, the
lobby security, the strength of the hurricane-proof
windows — all of which matter, given the museum-
quality works in his apartment. (“I couldn’t afford to
buy it now,” he says of the collection.) The 100 or so
pieces on display include Pollocks, Rothkos,
Lichtensteins, Miros, de Koonings, Twomblys, Noguchis
— the post-War pantheon. Margulies can recount he
history of every piece, and though he answers
seemingly any question willingly (even discussing how
much insurance he has), there isn’t a hint of bravado.
And there’s no doubt he means it when he says, during a
discussion of the insurance, “If there’s a loss, it’ll be an
emotional loss; it’s not about the money.”
The collection in his apartment, where he raised
four children (with his two ex-wives), rarely changes,
because, Margulies figures, there are so few works that
would improve it. What’s the point, he asks, of buying
late-career pieces, “where an artist was just repeating,
when I already have an example of the original creative
impulse.” He did buy one piece for the apartment this
summer. He recalls that he phoned Katherine Hinds, his
curator since 1982, and said, “I bought a David Row.”
And she said, “Congratulations.” And I said, “I think I’ll
hang it on the blank wall near the kitchen.” And she

said, “I think that’s a very good place for it.” And that
was it.

But if he rarely buys for his apartment, Margulies
still buys lots of art. The Margulies Collection at the
Warehouse, his private museum in Wynwood, has room
to show nearly 1,000 pieces at a time. Margulies, the
acquirer-in-chief, adds another 20 or 30 a year, mostly
photographs or installations. (Asked what he doesn’t
collect, he can only think of “performances” and
“concrete poetry.”) The Warehouse, recently enlarged
to 45,000 square feet, is open from late October to late
April; that lets Margulies spend the summer shopping.
This year, in Berlin, he fell in love with a fiberglass
sculpture by Wilhelm Mundt. But putting it in his
apartment wasn’t an option. Not only wouldn’t it
enhance the collection, he says, “but it wouldn’t even fit
in the elevator.”
Instead, the Mundt is one of several recent
acquisitions on display at the Warehouse, part of a 15th
anniversary exhibition that places newly acquired
pieces (by Mario Merz, Hans Josephsohn, Richard
Long, and others) alongside installations acquired by
the Margulies starting in 1999. They include Olafur
Eliasson’s “Your Now Is Our Surroundings,” first
installed at the Warehouse in 2000, and equally large
works by Ernest Neto, Anthony McCall, Do Ho Suh,
and Thomas Hirschhorn. Says Hinds, “For us it is nice
to look back at our exhibitions over the last 15 years
and thank about their impact on our audience,

especially young students who otherwise would not have
had exposure to this kind of art.”
As a developer, too, Margulies likes to think big. His
most recent building is the Bellini on Williams Island,
where units start at about $1.5 million. Linking his
vocation and his avocation, he commissioned a
chandelier for the lobby from the Yuichi Higashionna, a
Japanese artist represented by Boesky. But when it
comes to real estate, he says, he is thinking of “getting
off the train.” Now that he is “happily single,” with
grown children who are “doing great,” he would like
more leisure time. And for Margulies, buying art is the
perfect leisure-time activity. He sees nothing cutthroat
about it. “I pay my bills punctually. These are people
with families, and rent to pay. And so they give me very
nice terms,” he says of dealers. “And if I lose a piece I
want now or then, or even 10 pieces, it won’t make or
break the collection.”

When I tell Margulies I can’t believe that buying art,
in today’s red-hot market, isn’t stressful, he role-plays a
dialogue with a gallery owner.
“Let’s say I see a work I want. I’ll say, ‘What’s the
price of this very nice piece?’ And he’ll say, “It’s $50,000.
I say, ‘That’s a little more than I want to spend.’
So he says, ‘What do I need to do to? And I say, ‘Make
me smile.’ And he says, ‘How’s $40,000.’ Now I’m
smiling. So I say, “How do you want to get paid? Is six
months [one payment each month] okay with you?’ He
says, ‘Fine,’ and I say, ‘Thank you very much. You’ve got

a deal.’ And that’s all there is to it. Except when I buy a
work over $1 million, I try to get 12 months.”
Margulies rarely sells (“I’m offered some very big
sums, but you can’t hang money on your wall”), though
he recently used part of his collection as collateral for
$80 million in construction financing. He makes
frequent loans to other institutions, despite the risks.
Not long ago, “A Duane Hanson came back without a
finger,” he says. “Catherine had it fixed.” What he
doesn’t do is give art to museums, because he knows
they’ll rarely show it. And when he dies, he says, the
works in his apartment will be sold, with the money
going not to the Met or MoMA (and certainly not to the
Perez Miami Art Museum, of which he has been a
persistent critic). Instead, the money will go to help the
indigent. Just hope that whoever gets the art enjoys it half as much as he did.