Interview with Martin Margulies and Constance Collins

May 26, 2008

Gae Savannah: What does an art fair week look like for you?
Martin Margulies: For the Miami fair week, we have a hectic schedule. Really numbing, we have 5,000 people coming to the Warehouse. Then we don’t have parties – we don’t go to parties – but certain receptions we have to go to because we’re named as hosts.

GS: I attended the lavish dinner you had two years ago.
MM: Yes, we did that for three years in a row. One year we had 400 or 500 guests. One dealer called and asked, “Can I bring 10 people with me?” I said to myself, “What am I doing? If anyone wants to see the art…” At first the theory was I would entertain dealers after 8:00 PM at night. Because a lot of them are tired and don’t want to go to a jammed restaurant where you get served at 9:30, 10:00pm. But in the end, I just decided that so many people weren’t dealers – I just dropped it.
This year we just entertained a few artists at the house. Constance runs a homeless shelter, and we just felt we should do that because these artists had donated to a benefit auction for the place, and they did very well with it. And then we had a Friday late afternoon thing for art people – a couple hundred people showed up.

GS: Can you give the Margulies report on the New York and Miami fairs. I would like to focus on sculpture.
MM: It’s hard to really categorize. In New York, I particularly like the ADAA fair because the art there fits into my private collection. In general what we try to do is cherry pick the fairs that have the dealers that we know. So for instance, I went to Art Miami because there were two dealers we feel very strongly about. If we were not to show up, they might feel that we were neglecting them.
To my way of thinking, Pulse, Art Miami, NADA – all the same, showing a certain level art. I don’t think you’re going to find half million dollar art and over at those fairs. These dealers try to make an imprint on the younger market, maybe the beginniner collector. So they want to be in Miami because of the tremendous attendance. People are coming and saying, “How do we get into this game? How do we get into this illogical pursuit called art? We want to be part of it because we heard some hedge fund guy paid a hundred and thirty million dollars for a piece of art. We want to be part of that. We want to buy this work for $2,000. Five years from now, someone’s gonna come and offer us half-a-million dollars…from Dubai…” Ha ha…

GS: There are so many collectors that buy for investment and don’t have any gut instinct. What compels you to buy a sculpture?
MM: Sometimes you buy work because you want to support an artist. Sometimes you bend the criteria, and you know… you’re probably not going to hang the work. Sometimes you just buy it…

Constance Collins: Martin buys with his heart as well as his mind. I’ve seen that many times.

GS: Are you charmed, seduced by the artist?
MM: No. You just say, maybe the dealer is having a rough time. There are a lot of reasons.

GS: In your Warehouse we were really taken by some of your newer acquisitions such as the underwater Saskia Olde Wolbers video (Kilowatt Dynasty, 2000) (sculpture-based) and Cory Arcangel’s Nintendo game cartridge piece (2002). In general, do you see any new directions in sculpture? It must be intriguing to you to discover the new entities that interest you and how it all, as a serpentine movement, goes somewhere.
MM: Well, I don’t think in terms of what’s the framing and what’s it coming out of. It really boils down to your initial feelings when you see an object; you’re looking at something and responding to it. That’s really the essence of art – how you feel about something. So I don’t look at things as being the future ‘cause for me the future is now. For me it should hit me through the collection; should be part of the rhythm of the collection. I don’t look for trends, I don’t look for anything. It’s just the trend itself is within the collection.

GS: But also, it sounds as if you scope out artwork with a curatorial sense, where you’re conscious of your collection and the connections between the pieces, the flow, so it’s really a curatorial eye.
MM: Yes, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that – so right on, but also the placing the work is an expansion of the curatorial process.

GS: Yes. In the Warehouse you have corpulent Ernesto Neto hangings in an open space, and Chul Hyun Ahn’s mirrored, circular floor piece in an intimate corner (The Well, 2005), inviting people to peer down into the seemingly bottomless abyss of greens.
MM: In another corner, we have Ivan Navarro’s neon wheelbarrow (Flashlight; I am not from Here, I am not from There, 2006)in front of the correlating video with a couple of chairs for viewers, and we built a discrete booth to display Courtney Smith’s herringbone parquet floor (Paraparquetry, 2007).

GS: In your catalogue you suggest a good piece of art is not about having it all solid and tied up. You said, “Art experience is question-oriented, not answer-oriented. You’re really always looking for more questions.” Could you shed some light on the nature of the questions a sculpture might pose to you?
MM: You know what it is, if you’re a person that has a certain sense of inquisitiveness, you’re always looking forward to the next drama; it’s about the drama of the unknown. You’re always searching because once you have the answer, that’s the finality of it. And that’s not what art is. For example, I read somewhere that Carl Andre once said to Frank Stella, “Well, I have to do something to this. I just can’t put this stuff on the floor and nothing else happens.” But Stella said to him, “you’ve already done enough. There’s no sense in adding anything because the flat work really encompasses the space above it.” Then there’s the Judd story about Rothko, Newman, and de Kooning. Judd said, “I’m a painter, but there is nothing more I can do. I can’t beat these guys.” So he then went into space – decided to become a sculptor. He came out with these theories of how do you define space.

GS: Yet ultimately, the Judd works remain inscrutable.
MM: Yes. A lot of artists when they finish a work call it “Untitled.” That’s because they don’t want the work to be finished. That’s the artist’s final act. See, you’re leaving it open-ended, basically. It might be psychological or it might be subconscious, but they don’t want to see it end.

CC: It doesn’t become one-liner.

GS: So as you quoted from Robert Motherwell’s book, “The definition of abstraction is like an education. You go to school. You learn about something that doesn’t end; you just keep going on to the next question.”
MM: Yes.

GS: Ok, big picture, what’s the value of sculpture?
MM: You’re quoting Ad Reinhardt?

GS: “Sculpture is what you back up into…(when you’re looking at a painting).”
MM: Yes (laughs). Well, the value of sculpture is obviously that it is three as opposed to two-dimensional. You don’t really see space when you’re looking at a painting (well excluding Rothko …back up into space and enjoy the performance…). It is through space that in effect sculpture interacts more with humanity, because sculpture occupies the space that we occupy. When you’re hanging a painting on the wall, you’re not going to hang on the wall, nor am I.

GS: Yeah, to me paintings are usually art – art whereas sculptures are beings: they’re creatures that I can consort with, so to speak.
MM: But I like the physicality of it. That was my first foray into art, collecting sculpture.

GS: It just popped into your head? …This island would be nice with some sculpture on it?
MM: Well I must admit I had an ulterior motive: I’m a real estate developer. …built this area and said wouldn’t it be great if I put sculpture around the grounds. And when I did that, it gained a lot of popularity. People would call and say, “Can we come look at the sculpture?” Thus we would entertain groups, take them around the grounds. Then I would come up to New York and buy sculpture. I got two terrific Tony Smith pieces at that time, de Kooning and all those pieces which I wouldn’t be able to afford today. …Judd – that was his first Corten steel piece, and then I have a ‘62 Judd in the house that he hand painted, and after ‘64 he never painted anything again. But I would go up to New York, and they would say, “Hey, here comes that guy from Miami who collects sculpture… so I started to collect painting”…Ha ha… The art world is better than anything in the business world. I was collecting, but at the same time, people around me were saying to me, “What is this guy doing? He’s buying art – that’s crazy.” I said to myself, “They might be right.” The Rothko I bought… I had no motive other than to collect. I said to myself, “I’m putting hard earned money into this, and if something should go wrong in my business and I need to bail out, I hope I can get my money back.”

GS: And little did you know…
MM: Little did I know and little did anyone know… these obscene prices – no one could predict that. I’ve been offered tons of money for some of my things. The dealers are very persistent because I went to a few good dealers at the Basel fair — they didn’t have first-rate work. They’re having trouble getting the work because these very wealthy people don’t sell. They don’t need to sell. The people calling are very persistent — “Well, what about your Miró and what about this?” They’re offering me money sight unseen. I say, “Look, not for sale. I’m not interested in your price, but if you keep calling me, I would like to know if your client has anything he wants to sell to me.” …Ha ha.

GS: The Warhol Brillo Boxes (1970) piece in your warehouse by the way is superlative. Monster gap between a reproduction and the real object! But, the unhinged market… I am still reeling about the Warhol Car Crash (1963) that went for 75 million.
CC: After that auction I was so upset – I said to Marty, this is like financial Titans, their egos clashing in dollars over a work that was not even the highest quality of that artist. I didn’t even go to the next auction after that because I was too upset. I’m trying to feed people, arduously trying to raise money for a shelter, and the Titans, they’re clapping at the end.

GS: We recently met Donald and Lisa Pliner in Miami. They were glowing. We found out they have a foundation called Peace for the Children. Inspiring that they’re really doing something. What is the point of all this extravagant artwork? …the values are so skewed.
MM: Yes. Constance is at Lotus House six days a week, interviewing women coming out of prison to see if they fit into the shelter. Taking women to hospitals.

CC: We have a woman who had gone in at 17 years old, obviously a young black kid, came out in her 50’s. She was in 32 years for having killed her mother’s boyfriend. The result is 32 years later she comes out and her mother has passed away. Her friends have passed away. She has no one and she doesn’t know how to survive in the world. Really doesn’t know anything… I’m so grateful that she ended up in our shelter. Now she’s working. She learned how to open a bank account and got glasses so she can see for the first time in her life. A lot of time solitary can make you quite a spiritual person. Very interesting blessing for me to do this work.

MM: What Constance won’t tell you is that there was a woman, 61 years old, who was jailed because she didn’t show up for her hearing. Just threw her in jail. She’s got a walker. Barely able to walk. They took the walker away from her. Through some lucky break, we wound up getting a rehearing. Constance is a practicing attorney and a very successful businesswoman as well – which she won’t tell you, and she gave it all up almost four years ago.

CC: It was sort of like the Warhol car crash, (laughs) my prior life. You can make a lot of money, but you’re not having a good time.

MM: You know that building in the meat packing district, Scoop? (New York), that was her building. She bought that, renovated it and sold it. She was all over the East coast with property. Gave it all up. Anyway we were so happy to get that woman out of prison. Constance is at it 8-10 hours a day. Remarkable. All I do is sometimes write a check. Every day sad stories – bi-polar, mentally and physically abused, personality disorders. And she takes them for one year, not just 90 days.

CC: Martin sold a sculpture so we could buy our maternity house. So we house women who are homeless and pregnant with their infants, which we couldn’t do before. So wrenching, we were turning so many people away because we knew we couldn’t house their infants — a lot of special needs.

MM: The kids are really beautiful. To see these kids — what’s their future? How do you have a woman on the street with a child? They take away the kid. Kid goes into the system which doesn’t work. And we’re spending money, this country is spending money everywhere but where it really counts.

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