Herb and Dorothy (2009)
Directed by: Megumi Sasaki
Run Time: 91 minutess
Herb and Dorothy, an award-winning
documentary, tells the extraordinary story of two ordinary
people of moderate means who have come to rank among the world’s
top art collectors.
Herbert Vogel, a postal clerk, and Dorothy Vogel, a librarian,
began collecting art in the early 1960s. Minimal and Conceptual
art was little known and less respected then, allowing Herb
and Dorothy to buy small works of then unknown artists.
They lived on Dorothy’s salary, leaving all of Herb’s
post office wages available for art purchases — so long
as the pieces were affordable and would fit into their small
one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
Within these limitations, and with little formal training,
they proved themselves curatorial visionaries; many of those
they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned
artists, including Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude,
Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack
Mangold, Lynda Benglis, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi,
and Lawrence Weiner. Most of these artists appear in the film.
First time director Megumi Sasaki has excelled at capturing
the Vogels’ warmth and dedication to artists and their
art. Often scenes were shot in the Vogels’ tiny kitchen,
permitting the audience to observe the Vogel’s daily
life and their intimate conversations.
Many scenes are of the Vogels and their now famous artist
friends. It’s hard to imagine the down-to earth unassuming
Vogels being good friends with artists such as Christo and
Jeanne-Claude, but they are.
Director Sasaki had difficulty understanding why the Vogels
liked certain artists or artworks, since they answered only,
"…because we like them," or "…because
they are beautiful."
Lucio Pozzi, the very first artist Sasaki interviewed, responded
to her dilemma, saying, "That's why the Vogels are very
special. Why should you explain art? What's the need to verbalize
art? Herb and Dorothy only look, look and look. That's their
way of communicating with art and artists."
Sasaki then started paying attention to how the Vogels look
at art, instead of how they talk about it. Although Herb in
particular doesn't talk much, the intensity in his eyes is
all the communication necessary.
Sasaki also explores the Vogels’ access to art. The
film illustrates that one need not be wealthy to enjoy and
collect art. The Vogels’ advice would be: trust your
instincts; don’t follow trends or take advice from others.
After thirty years of meticulous collecting, the Vogels managed
to accumulate over 2,000 pieces, turning their minuscule one
bedroom apartment into a warehouse so jam-packed that there
was barely room to walk.
In 1992, the Vogels shocked the art world by moving their
entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington,
DC. The vast majority of their collection was given as a gift
to the institution. Many of the works they acquired appreciated
so significantly over the years that their collection today
is worth many millions of dollars. There are some inspiring
shots of the diminutive Vogels in their imposing, almost majestic
Herbert and Dorothy Vogel Collection.
Herb and Dorothy celebrates their power of passion
and love of life. The Vogels’ unpretentious independence
and genius is awe-inspiring. The warmth Herb and Dorothy have
for each other and for their artist friends shines throughout
this remarkable film. As the film progresses, we become captivated
by the enchanted existence the Vogels have made for themselves.
Post Script: Today Herb and Dorothy still live in the
same cramped apartment in New York. They've refilled it with
piles of new art they've acquired since 1992.
With too many newly collected works to keep, the Vogels and
the National Gallery of Art decided to launch a national gift
program, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: 50 Works
for 50 States that will distribute 50 works from the collection
to a selected museum in each state.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2009 All Rights Reserved