After donating his photography collection to the Norton Museum of Art, a real estate agent and lifelong art collector focuses his private collection on drawings and paintings
Art is in Burt Minkoff’s DNA. “My uncle owned a company called Posters Originals and created the American art poster,” Minkoff explains. “He was best friends with the art dealer Leo Castelli and collected lots of Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, and David Hockney. As a child in the ’60s, I would go to his apartment and play with his Ernest Trova man sculpture or the Miguel Berrocal sculpture.”
As an art-obsessed adult in the 1980s, Minkoff spent Saturday afternoons in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, browsing in the galleries and artist studios. “When my uncle started collecting, it was a much smaller art world,” he says. The same was true when he began collecting, too. “Now it’s a global art world, which makes it even more complicated and difficult.”
He bought his first piece, 42nd Street Looking West by Joe Davis, in 1984 at the Vox Populi Gallery in the East Village, where he could pick up pieces within his price range. “When I started collecting it was $500 and $1,000; $5,000 was a lot of money then.” He says he often hesitates spending at current high prices, which sometimes means missing opportunities. “Everything I collect is very contemporary and I tend not to go back,” he says. “I kind of think that if I missed it, I missed it and I move on.”
Minkoff’s winding road as a collector evolved when he was on the Producer’s Council for the New Museum, traveling to art fairs across Europe. “Like gamblers invited to Las Vegas, if we could get to Berlin, Athens, Madrid, or Turin, the art fairs put us up and took us on tours, and we went into the greatest homes. It was fabulous,” he recalls.
But Minkoff soon developed an eye for more than art. As a New York–based marketing executive, he witnessed how real estate investors had transformed the real estate scene in Manhattan and the Hamptons—and he longed for his own canvas. “I knew that we could change Florida in a way that nobody could imagine,” he says. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could learn and help educate people on the different choices when they made the move. That was the marketer in me.”
So, combining his love of art and real estate, Minkoff headed south to Miami in 2011 to work with Craig Robins, the famed developer of the Miami Design District, a co-founder of Design Miami, and an original organizer of Art Basel Miami Beach. However, the Magic City quickly lost its appeal and Minkoff moved on to Lake Worth. Twelve years later, he relocated to West Palm Beach, where his real estate business base is, and found the community where he could put down roots.
“When I first visited Palm Beach, I saw what the Hamptons had been in the ’70s, and after six months in Miami I realized that was what I wanted,” he says. “That’s why I came here. It was much more familiar to me, and there was a real opportunity here.” After a spell with a handful of small real estate firms, Minkoff worked with the Corcoran Group for 14 years. He joined Douglas Elliman in 2018.
Although the majority of Minkoff’s work is residential, he has a reputation among serious art collectors for being the guy you go to when you need to buy an industrial space for your sprawling private art collection. Case in point: A former client (and one of Minkoff’s closest friends) is local art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, whom he escorted to her first Art Basel and helped find a home for her expanding collection at The Bunker in West Palm Beach.
Now, having established his local prowess in the art and real estate worlds, Minkoff houses his own collection in his three-story townhouse and guesthouse in West Palm Beach. But before determining where to put each piece, he decided to divest some of his works—and enrich the community at the same time—by making a large donation of photography to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.
“I realized that I needed to focus,” he says. To Minkoff, that meant cutting
out most photographic works. “Not that I don’t like photography. I love drawings because they are an immediate, intimate look into an artist’s mind. I probably could stop collecting everything but drawings.”
Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
A look at his home gallery reveals not only his love of drawings, but also an eye for color, a collection of works from great painters, as well as striking pieces of conceptual art. In the entrance hall, Los Angeles–based artist Henry Taylor’s Untitled (selfie with horse) takes pride of place. Taylor’s eyes follow you down a narrow corridor, where you come face-to-face with an iconic 1967 silkscreen on paper: Marilyn in pink by Andy Warhol. The first-floor office suite is filled with reminders of Minkoff’s childhood—including more Warhol screen-prints like Mao (1972), Campbell’s Soup Can Shopping Bag (1966), and Liz (1964), plus an entire bookshelf filled with tomes devoted to Warhol.
There’s a signed David Hockney lithograph, Pool (1980), and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Secretary (1978), one of a few photographs Minkoff kept in his collection. (“It’s hard to stay in the very narrow path,” he confesses.) Derrick Adams’ brightly colored mixed-media collage, Fun & Games (2014), prominently depicts Eddie Murphy as a game show host.
Minkoff’s beloved collection of drawings rises up a staircase to the second floor. Among them are works by Patrick Lee, Orly Genger, Andrew Brischler, Elizabeth Peyton, Paul McCarthy, and—one of Minkoff’s favorites—Andrea Zittel’s Two Public Sculptures A-Z (1999). It’s impossible not to linger to gaze at and read the text in Karen Kilimnik’s drawings, Charlotte Rampling at Yves St. Laurent’s, Paris (1984) and Leonardo DiCaprio (1998). Kehinde Wiley’s striking portrait, A Disheveled Woman (2015), after Goya’s work of the same name, hangs on the second-floor landing leading to a large seating area flanking an open kitchen and bar where every wall is covered with art.
At one end hangs Closer, a word piece by Jack Pierson. German photographer Uta Barth’s digitized photograph on canvas Field #24 (1998) floats over a sofa. Safe/White Painting (2002), by Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset, is a take on a Robert Ryman monochrome painting that’s been ripped open and peeled back to reveal a shiny metal safe.
Nearby, there’s Untitled (Hovering Stack: Purple, Green, Orange, Blue) (2014), by Los Angeles–based artist Brian Wills. In Judith Eisler’s Uli & Ingrid (2013), a photorealist oil-on-canvas painting inspired by a film still, two characters in a car look intensely at each other, leaving the viewer to decide what might be going on between them.
All spaces in Minkoff’s home, including bedrooms, bathrooms, and even the elevator, host their share of artworks. The guesthouse is no exception. Inspired by Sunnylands, the mid-century California home of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, the structure boasts three large paintings on the first floor: an arresting Elizabeth Neel, Mantis (2019), with its bold, swirling green brushstrokes; Enoc Perez’s United States Embassy in New Delhi, India (2017); and Anton Henning’s Interieure No. 141. There are also two Georg Baselitz gouache and India ink works on paper, Untitled (7, VIII) (1993) and Untitled (21, VII) (1993). The guesthouse gives Minkoff the perfect space to entertain. And whether he’s collecting art or hosting guests, he doesn’t do anything on a small scale. “If you’re cooking for two, you might as well cook for 20,” says Minkoff, who has been known to hold dinner parties for 40 to 50 people.
The guesthouse’s top floor is dominated by a table that seats 12. The elegant 1970 corner bar by Italian photographer and designer Willy Rizzo is a showstopper. “You can still smell the smoke and alcohol seeping through,” says Minkoff. Five imposing steel-framed and motorized clock faces, custom-designed to Minkoff’s sense of time, look out over the table. The A-Z Time Trials (1999) installation by Andrea Zittel resembles a backlit Porsche dashboard. Gisela Colon’s Morph (Aqua Blue) (2018) hangs like a large opalescent jewel.
By all accounts, Minkoff has curated an assemblage of pieces that speak to a lifetime of avid art collecting. Minkoff says his passion for art continues to flourish. “I love emerging artists. It’s an expression of where we are at our time.” He buys from reputable dealers online and has established strong relationships with galleries like Gavlak in Palm Beach. And despite his recent resolve to keep his collection focused, it would be no surprise if the few remaining empty walls in Minkoff’s home are soon filled with new treasures.