Martin Z. Margulies, the Miami-based developer who has amassed one of the country’s top private collections of modern and contemporary art, has pledged a $5 million bequest to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Terms of the legacy gift will be drafted and signed in coming weeks, he says, describing the promised cash as unrestricted. “No conditions,” he says. “They know what’s best and where to put the money.”
Margulies, who made his fortune developing luxury real estate in Florida, is an autodidact with an excellent eye that informs his taste not only for mid-century modern art, but also contemporary, a field too frequently plagued with myopic faddism. So it makes sense that he would help insure the future of the venerable Metropolitan, a walk-through textbook of art history filled with objects of enduring quality. Not only the collection, but the educational and ecumenical character of the institution moved him to lend his support. “The Met is an iconic museum about different civilizations. Seeing the people sitting on the steps, the tourists, school buses, young and old — that was enough for me,” he says.
Visitors to Art Basel Miami Beach are familiar with the 45,000-square-foot Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, a museum in Miami’s Wynwood arts district that since 1999 has displayed rotating selections from his foundation’s holdings. The breadth and generally high level of his more than 4,000 works — by artists from Miró, de Kooning, Noguchi and George Segal to Anthony McCall, Thomas Hirschhorn, Do-Ho-Suh and Olafur Eliasson – surpass not only the other private collections in the city, but those of the Miami Art Museum (MAM) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, as well.
Margulies’ collection includes sculpture, painting, installations, photography and video from the mid 20th century to present, much of it on view in his high-rise apartment on Key Biscayne. He recently published painting and sculpture highlights in a book whose sales support his wife Constance’s nonprofit shelter for homeless women.
Along with MOCA, the Bass Museum in South Beach, and the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), the Margulies Warehouse consistently has the finest exhibitions in town. When the contemporary art world arrives for Art Basel Miami Beach in December, the warehouse will have an exhibition of African art (November 7th through the end of April 2011). “It will be African artists as well as non-African artists whose subject is Africa,” he says, citing Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keita, Zwelethu Mthethwa, George Osodi, Jackie Nickerson, F.C. Gundlach, Peter Friedl, and Tim Hetherington among the artists from his collection that will be presented.
Local Collectors Lack Confidence in Public Institutions
News of the Margulies gift to the Met will not please the board of the Miami Art Museum, which is raising funds to build a new home by Herzog & de Meuron on the waterfront. Margulies has been outspoken in opposition to the use of public money to construct the facility, which is receiving $100 million through a county bond issue, so it is not surprising that he is putting his money elsewhere. If Miami’s other philanthropists share his lack of confidence, the new building may long remain on the drawing board and its small collection unbefitting a major institution in a large U.S. city. (In a future post I will address the issues confronting MAM.)
As is well known, Miami collectors Mera and Don Rubell, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Ella Cisneros and Craig Robins have shunned the city’s public institutions and established private museums or corporate showcases. If the city’s cultural elite do not create stable public institutions, the private collections will remain independent or could eventually be dispersed.
Cisneros, whose Latin American holdings are of great quality and coherence, briefly affiliated with MAM only to leave in frustration with the museum’s leadership. She continues to operate her foundation gallery, but who knows how long until she finds an attractive opportunity elsewhere? The loss of her patronage would be a tremendous blow to a city whose population and character are so integrally linked with Latin culture. The Rubells are planning to create a second private museum not in Miami, but in Washington, DC.
Margulies has provided financial support to other museums, including the New Museum in New York, and he is not disaffected with all museums in the region. He recently signed a three-year agreement to lend portions of his collection to the Tampa Museum of Art. His attraction to the Met is reminiscent of Walter Annenberg’s much quoted explanation of his gift of impressionist and early modern art to the museum: “Strength to strength,” said the TV Guide founder (whose collection would have been in good company at the Philadelphia Art Museum, in the city where he made his money, but that is another story.)
Will Margulies eventually donate art to the Met, as well? “At this time, I prefer not to mention the rest of my collection,” he says. But a clue to his plans lies in the fact that his private foundation will remain open to the public for years to come. “The Warehouse will be endowed,” he says.