A Portrait Of The Collector, Eccentric And Essential

At The Gates i i

hide captionArt-World Heroes: Starting in the '60s, quirky collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel amassed a dazzling collection of modern minimalist art.

Arthouse Films
At The Gates

Art-World Heroes: Starting in the '60s, quirky collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel amassed a dazzling collection of modern minimalist art.

Arthouse Films

Herb and Dorothy

  • Director: Megumi Sasaki
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running time: 87 minutes

Unrated

Herb and Dorothy Vogel i i

hide captionMinimalist Taste, Maximal Clutter: The Vogels, who were devoted early patrons of now-famous artists, acquired more than 4,700 works.

Arthouse Films
Herb and Dorothy Vogel

Minimalist Taste, Maximal Clutter: The Vogels, who were devoted early patrons of now-famous artists, acquired more than 4,700 works.

Arthouse Films

Herb and Dorothy Vogel are perhaps the world's least likely art collectors, a retired postal worker and a retired librarian with one of the world's great collections of conceptual art —and with a story that proves briskly and engagingly cinematic in Megumi Sasaki's documentary Herb and Dorothy.

The couple began frequenting New York galleries and art studios in the early '60s; they'd pose questions about work they didn't understand, educating themselves and befriending such then-struggling unknowns as Jeff Koons, Sol Lewitt, Robert Mangold and Chuck Close.

And everywhere they went, they bought art. Their budget was strictly limited — they lived on Dorothy's salary, while devoting Herb's to purchasing paintings — but by showing up with cash in hand, and by showing feverish interest in the new and the unconventional, they managed to ingratiate themselves with the minimalist artists of the day.

Minimalism, in fact, was all they could afford. But they went maximal with the minimal, picking up early experimental work for a song; later, they'd buy more mature work at a discount as the artists they'd helped through lean times became more established.

Over time, the Vogels became mascots of the New York art world, amassing in their tiny rent-controlled apartment a collection that traced the entire development of the minimalist movement — and of the artists who created it, many of whom would become enormously famous and influential.

Lining the walls of the apartment they shared with Herb's fish, turtles and cats, and stacked on shelves and under the bed, the artworks accumulated until the Vogel collection was indisputably one of the world's most impressive. So much so that museums began vying to acquire it.

Filmmaker Megumi Sasaki started documenting the Vogels just as they were considering what to do with all the art they'd amassed. Curator Jack Cowart remembers being startled at just how much the couple had stashed away: When he offered to bring their collection to Washington's National Gallery of Art to catalog it, it took five 40-foot tractor-trailers to haul it. (Doing justice to the collection and its scope on film requires sophisticated graphics and a good deal of ingenuity, and happily, director Sasaki possesses both.)

Some 4,700 pieces of art left the apartment, headed for Washington — and then the Vogels started filling the newly emptied space again.

They're still doing so, compulsive in a way that Herb and Dorothy depicts as at once crazy, smart, generous and enormously endearing.

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