Art Dealer Aladar Marberger’s Collection Heads to Auction

A painted portrait of a man in a black suit and a blue shirt sitting in a white chair
‘Aladar at Sagaponic,’ Billy Sullivan. Courtesy Rago/Wright

When New York art dealer Aladar Marberger died in 1988, he was 41 years old and had been living with an AIDS diagnosis for three years. The keyword is ‘living.’ After his diagnosis, according to an article in the March 1987 issue of Vanity Fair on the heartbreaking impact of the disease in the arts, Marberger handed off his duties at the Fischbach Gallery (where he was director for nearly two decades) to an assistant and decamped to the Hamptons. There, he threw parties and candidly spoke out against the stigma, shame and secrecy inexorably linked with AIDS at the time.

“He didn’t just accept what was given to him,” artist Elaine de Kooning says in a documentary film about the gallerist produced by Muriel Weiner the year he passed. “He imposed himself on his surroundings, and created what he wanted around him.” The people who knew Marberger best—of whom de Kooning was one—likewise describe him as irrepressible and vibrant and someone who reveled in both life and art.

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Marberger’s relationship to art was quite personal. He and de Kooning met at Carnegie-Mellon University where he was a student and she a teacher, but they soon developed a close bond and became lifelong friends. It was de Kooning who suggested that he become a dealer and then opened certain doors for him in the New York art scene that led to Marberger, who’d toyed with the idea of becoming an artist, becoming instead the first director of the influential Fischbach Gallery.

He was wildly successful in the role, which he occupied for his entire career, working closely with the artists in his orbit and more than earning the nickname “The Wunderkind of 57th Street.” In a short obit published on November 3, 1988, the New York Times reported that Marberger was instrumental in shifting the gallery’s focus “from abstract art to contemporary American realism and showed the work of such well-known artists in the field as Jane Freilicher, Nell Blaine, Neil Welliver and John Button.” He was responsible for furthering the careers of Fairfield Porter, Lois Dodd, Alex Katz, Joe Brainard, Jane Wilson and many others, according to Paul Caranicas, who worked with Marberger while represented by Fischbach.

A painted portrait of a man in a blue shirt seated among greenery and flowers
‘Aladar #3,’ Elaine de Kooning. Courtesy Rago/Wright

Along the way, Marberger assembled a personal art collection that was similarly varied, with works by Katz, Ronald Bladen, Raymond Parker, Georg Pfahler, Doug Ohlson and Robert Swain along with Wynn Chamberlain, Neil Welliver and Nancy Hagin, among others. Now the works in Marberger’s collection, which has remained untouched for more than three decades, will go on the block in Rago/Wright’s “Living Out Loud: The A. Aladar Marberger Collection” sale.

A recurring theme in the collection is Aladar Marberger himself—his zest for life and outsized personality inspired the artists with whom he worked and built relationships, and he was also known for commissioning works to support artists. As such, the sale celebrates the art dealer’s life and legacy—leading the lots is Alex Katz’s Aladar on Aluminum with a high estimate of $70,000 and Elaine de Kooning’s Aladar #3 with a high estimate of $60,000. There are also paintings and drawings of Marberger by Billy Sullivan, Nancy Hagin, Vernon E. “Copy” Berg and others.

“Aladar Marberger was someone who approached both art and life with excitement, generosity, and courage,” said Meredith Hilferty, Rago Director of Fine Art, in a statement. “He used his influence to fight the stigma of AIDS when it was not common for powerful people to do so, and we couldn’t be more honored to share the works that he held dear and celebrate his memory.”

“Living Out Loud: The A. Aladar Marberger Collection” is on view at Rago in Lambertville, NJ, starting today (March 6).  The auction will commence at 11 a.m. on March 13, with live, telephone and online bidding options. 

Art Dealer Aladar Marberger’s Storied Collection Heads to Auction

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