Fifty Works from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel
by Claire Howard
Over the past fifty years, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel have amassed an art collection consisting of thousands of works, many by key figures in minimal, post-minimal, and conceptual art. The scope of their collection is even more remarkable, however, because of the Vogels’ unique approach to collecting: small-scale and on a budget. Setting aside Dorothy’s librarian salary for living expenses, the Vogels devoted the entirety of Herb’s Postal Service income to purchasing art—primarily drawings and other intimately sized works—directly from artists whom the couple befriended. This deeply personal, passionate approach to collecting and their preference for challenging artworks made Dorothy and Herb singular figures in the art world long before they decided to donate the vast majority of their collection to public institutions nationwide. With the advice of the National Gallery of Art, and the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Vogels have given fifty works from their collection to a museum in each of the fifty United States, 2,500 works in all, as part of their “50×50” initiative. The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin is honored to be the recipient of the Vogels’ gift to Texas.
When Dorothy and Herb bought a small John Chamberlain sculpture shortly after their marriage in 1962, they did not intend to become collectors. “We didn’t call it a collection until other people did. People started asking to come over and see ‘the collection,’ and that’s when we realized that it existed,” Dorothy recalled. The thousands of works that the couple has acquired together provide a rich overview of the New York art world since the 1960s, from later Abstract Expressionism, to minimal, post-minimal, and conceptual art, as well as experimental figuration. The Vogels emphasize that individual works of art and specific artists, rather than a particular moment or movement, define their collection, and the breadth of their acquisitions re ects their enthusiasm for thought- provoking art of all persuasions.
Dorothy and Herb were important early supporters of minimal and conceptual art, providing encouragement and, in the case of Sol LeWitt, first sales to artists whose intellectually rigorous work initially received little support from the American art market. “Most of the things we have we bought because we didn’t understand them—we like them,” Herb commented. “A real work of art you never entirely understand, and anyway, if I had waited until I thought I understood I’d never have bought anything.” Many of the artists in the collection, including LeWitt, Lynda Benglis, and Richard Tuttle went on to successful careers, but the Vogels have always prioritized personal relationships with artists and their own engagement with the work over the investment potential of their acquisitions. The Vogels purchased what they liked, with only the requirements that work be affordable and able to fit in their one-bedroom apartment. Their collection contains small-scale interpretations of larger sculptures, interesting one-offs, drawings inscribed to Herb or Dorothy on their birthdays, and important studies and selections from artists’ notebooks.
The depth of the Vogels’ friendships with artists including Tuttle, Robert Barry, Charles Clough, Richard Francisco, Lucio Pozzi, and Edda Renouf is reflected in the numerous works by each of these artists in the Vogel Collection. “They have a survey of my work,” Barry has said. “…It’s true of many artists in the collection and so important. They have many smaller, more intimate pieces— the personal things artists don’t always show in a gallery. I like that quality and that sense of adventure.” The Vogels’ immersion in the art scene matches the intimacy and intensity of their collecting. Their constant search for new artists and works has led the couple to devote countless hours to attending gallery openings and visiting artists’ studios. “Collecting is not just buying art works but it is also the whole experience of being part of the art world. It means…seeing, reading, talking, and thinking about art every spare moment of the day,” the couple wrote.
The Vogels have enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Richard Tuttle since 1969, and own the largest collection of his work in the world. Tuttle’s drawing-based practice, emphasizing deceptively simple and ephemeral forms, is represented in the Vogels’ gift to the Blanton by a suite of fourteen individual drawings and two sets of drawings on loose-leaf paper, including several preparatory sketches for site-specific wall drawings in the artist’s 1971 mid-career retrospective at the Dallas Museum of Art . As further indication of the Vogels’ commitment to Tuttle’s work, every 50×50 museum will receive pieces by him (as well as by Clough and Francisco, other artists the Vogels collected in depth). The collectors’ admiration for Tuttle is wholeheartedly returned: “Most of us go through the world never seeing anything,” Tuttle stated. “Then you meet somebody like Herb and Dorothy, who have eyes that see. Something goes from the eye to the soul without going through the brain.”
The Blanton will present all fty works in the Vogels’ gift to Texas, as well as a 2009 documentary lm about the couple, entitled Herb & Dorothy, this summer. The intuitive approach to collecting that Tuttle praised has enriched the Vogels’ lives for half a century; now they want to give back.