Meet Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. Herbert is 4-feet-7-inches tall and Dorothy is 4-feet-9-inches tall. Dorothy is a retired librarian and Herbert is a retired postal clerk. They have been married for 48 years, and during that time they have amassed more than 4,000 pieces of minimal, conceptual, post-minimal, and abstract expressionist art.
They collected every single piece on Herbert’s salary, surviving off of Dorothy’s income and living in a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
As their collection continued to grow, space in the Vogels” small apartment shrank, and Herb and Dorothy decided to donate some of their collection to the National Gallery of Art. They liked that the Gallery didn’t charge an admission fee to view art, and it was one of the places they visited on their honeymoon. Although they were able to give more than more than 1,000 works to the Gallery, the Vogels” entire collection was still too large to give to one place.
They decided to launch their Fifty Works for Fifty States project, selecting 50 art museums and institutions to display the works they had acquired.
The Delaware Art Museum received some of the Vogels” collection. The exhibition runs from June 19, 2010 to August 29, 2010 and features art produced between 1966 and 2003. The Vogels will attend the opening of the display.
“We are thrilled that the Vogels will be joining us to celebrate the opening and this incredible gift,” says Margaret Wilson, curator at the Delaware Art Museum.
The ultimate goal of the project was to bring work by contemporary artists to places that might not have been able to obtain them otherwise. The participating institutions were chosen based on Herb and Dorothy’s personal criteria. They considered several factors, including whether the institution had already exhibited work from their collection and if the museum staff had worked with the couple before.
“While the Delaware Art Museum did not have a previous relationship with the Vogels,” says Wilson, “it does have a commitment to contemporary American art, thereby providing a context for the works of art from the Vogel collection.”
Work from 23 artists — including Lynda Benglis, Charles Clough and Richard Tuttle — will be featured.
Although it would seem that two people with 4,000 works of art would each have had a lifelong interest in the medium, it was actually Herbert who opened Dorothy’s eyes to the art world. In his younger days, Herb frequented the meeting places of abstract expressionist artists, such as Greenwich Village’s Cedar Tavern.
Herb also took painting and drawing classes at NYU, convincing Dorothy to join him after they were married. Though they enjoyed painting, they ultimately realized it made them happier to see the work others produced as opposed to their own.
Their collection has led to friendships with many of the artists whose work they purchased or received as gifts.
“The Vogels encouraged these artists, and their support validated the artists” activities,” says Wilson.
Until his death in 2007, Sol LeWitt, one of the foremost conceptual and minimalist artists, spoke with the Vogels nearly every weekend over the phone.
Herb and Dorothy were also early collectors and friends of Robert Mangold, Edda Renouf and Richard Tuttle. The Vogels have continually said that their friendships are necessary in order to better understand the artistic process and improve their knowledge of art.
The Vogels learned over the years that they each had a penchant for picking different artistic styles. In a 1994 interview with Ruth Fine, National Gallery of Art curator, Dorothy admitted, “He picked up on the flamboyant artists, and I leaned toward the more minimal.” Their gravitation toward conceptual and minimal art is difficult to explain. Though repeatedly asked in interviews why they chose the art they chose, Herb would always respond, “I liked it or I didn’t like it.”
For more information about the Vogels and their collection, visit http://vogel5050.org/.