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An art collection from the eyes and heart

Stewart Oksenhorn
Jackson Pollock, Untitled, circa 1952-56, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper
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On their way to building a prominent art collection – a portion of it currently being exhibited at the Aspen Art Museum – Susan and Larry Marx never sought an education in the art they bought. They didn’t need to. That education was almost everywhere they went.Growing up in Westchester County, north of New York City, Larry was a grudging participant in his family’s frequent trips to the city’s array of museums. “The Modern and the Met were old friends,” he says. At Stanford University, he took art appreciation courses. But when it was time to enter the working world, Marx found himself not describing the relative merits of the Dutch masters versus the Italian Renaissance, but managing mutual funds on Wall Street. Improbably, Marx found plenty of opportunity to learn about art in the nation’s financial center.

At the mutual fund firm Neuberger Berman, Marx was surrounded by fine art; the company even employed its own curator. “You go into the firm and it’s like a small museum,” noted Marx. And for an authentic museum experience, Marx had only to drive upstate a short way to the Neuberger Museum of Art. The museum, founded in 1969 with the donation of Roy Neuberger’s collection of 20th-century American art to the State University of New York-Purchase, houses an impressive trove of works by de Kooning, O’Keeffe, Hopper and many others.Susan, meanwhile, had grown up a farmer’s daughter in Fresno, Calif. But family trips were almost invariably taken to San Francisco, where the family visited the De Young Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. At Stanford, she also took art appreciation courses. (Though the Marxes met pursuing another cultural activity – bridge – and not admiring paintings.) It was a 15-year gap until Susan continued with her art education. But after her children were grown, she joined a group of women who spent hours at a time being led from one New York gallery to the next.And from the beginning there was at least some art in the Marx house. Larry had received a lithograph for his 21st birthday. And for his wedding present from his wife, Larry received an abstract painting from a now-forgotten artist in Carmel, Calif.

That informal education is echoed in the Marxes’ casual entrance into the world of collecting. The two can’t pinpoint a time when they actually began building their collection: maybe it was 12 years ago, when they moved to Aspen. Or possibly it was 20 years ago, around the time when they made one of their first significant purchases.There is no debating the significance of the Marx collection, though. The Aspen Art Museum exhibit, From Pollock to Marden: Post-War Works on Paper from the Collection of Susan and Larry Marx, features several dozen pieces from the brightest lights and biggest movements of the past 60 years of American art. In addition to a spellbinding Jackson Pollock splatter painting and a wonderful color field work by Brice Marden, there are examples by Richard Diebenkorn, Susan Rothenberg, Franz Kline, Klaus Oldenberg and Ed Ruscha. And while the Marxes deny any organizing principals to their collecting – their mantra is “to follow their eyes and their hearts” – the collection impresses at least one schooled observer.”This is a show you could put up in any museum in the world,” said Dean Sobel, the interim director of the Aspen Art Museum and curator of the Marx exhibit. “The overall importance of the show is that it’s the most influential artists, and the work is fantastic. This is primo stuff.”



Though the Marxes never purchased art to fill gaps in their collection – they say the one guide they follow is that they both have to admire a painting to buy it, and they do employ an art advisor – the work still manages to touch on most major postwar schools of art. Sobel has organized the collection into four groups, which he calls “the four most important art movements of the last 60 years”: the abstract expressionists, the post-minimalism, pop art and figurative expressionism.”I don’t think they collected with these four groups in mind. It’s curators who want to categorize things,” said Sobel. “But you go through it and that’s how they cluster together.”For the Marxes, it is a rare pleasure to see their familiar paintings thus arrayed. “I regard these works as my friends,” said Susan. “And it’s great to see them in proximity like this. Because at our house, one’s in one room, one’s in another. I’ve never seen it assembled like this.”

Perhaps the most significant phase of the Marxes’ informal education began 12 years ago, when the couple moved to Aspen. “Aspen has been a remarkable introduction and entrée into meeting so many other art collectors,” said Susan, a member and past president of the Aspen Art Museum’s board of directors. (Larry is on the acquisitions board of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.) “So many friends are willing to share in the art world. And I think that’s what the Paepckes had in mind. These people are all so open about letting you see what they’ve got and how they got it and what it means to them.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com