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From Miró Constellations to 50,000 Pounds of Kiefer: Martin Z. Margulies on 45 Years of Collecting

By Judd Tully

The sale of works collected by Robert C. Scull at Sotheby’s in 1973 represents a historic moment—the first time contemporary art came to the auction block in a grand fashion. But it turns out it was significant in another way: it was a starting point of sorts for mega-collector Martin Z. Margulies.

“I was starting a real-estate business and I bought a couple of modern prints by Chagall and Picasso and one thing led to another,” Margulies said in a recent interview. “I went to an auction in New York”—the Scull sale that was the talk of the town—”and I said to myself, ‘These people buying are smart people. They’re business people and putting their money into something.’ So I started going around to dealers.”

The 81-year-old globe-trotting art collector and dedicated philanthropist (who has spent years on the ARTnews “Top 200 Collectors” list) has become known for his eponymous museum-scaled art warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, which plays home to part of his mostly contemporary collection. In September, D.A.P. published the nearly 300-page first volume of his complete holdings, and in the fall Margulies touched down in New York for a conversation about the humble origins of his now-storied collection.

The 50-work Sotheby’s sale by taxi-fleet owner Scull is widely considered the first major single-owner contemporary art auction held with jaw-dropping and record prices, including Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist masterpiece Police Gazette from 1955 that fetched a then-record (yes!) $180,000. After the auction, Margulies was approached by a vivacious and super connected dealer from Fort Worth, Texas, named Shaindy Fenton, who had seen him at the sale and who was building a collection for Ray and Patsy Nasher now enshrined as a world-class sculpture trove at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. Fenton, who had been the close-up subject of three Andy Warhol portraits between 1978 and 1983 (a sure-fire sign of her art-world standing), offered her help.

Soon, Margulies was introduced to the top dealers of postwar and contemporary art in New York, including Bill Acquavella, Xavier Fourcade, Larry Rubin, Arne Glimcher, and Leo Castelli—the power brokers of their time. “They were all willing to share their experiences,” Margulies said. “It was a fascinating field and I got very enthused about it. I started reading, learning, coming up to New York, going to galleries, and I realized it was a different life, a new life for me, not about building, not about business. If you made enough money you could embark on this new life, and it really turned out great.”

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