Megumi Sasaki’s documentary (2008) on art collectors Herbert and Dorothy Vogel
It moves me beyond words.
Early in their marriage, they took painting classes at New York University, but later gave up painting in favor of collecting. They had no children, lived very frugally, and shared their living space with fish, turtles, and cats named after famous painters.
The couple used Dorothy’s income to cover their living expenses and instead of eating in restaurants or travelling, they used Herb’s income, which peaked at $23,000 annually, for art. They didn’t buy for investment purposes, choosing only pieces they personally liked and could carry home on the subway or in a taxi. They bought directly from the artists, often paying in installments. Once, according to the Washington Post, they received a collage from environmental artist Christo in exchange for cat-sitting.
They amassed a collection of over 4,782 works which they displayed and also stored in closets and under the bed, in their rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Though their focus was mainly conceptual art and minimalist art, the collection also includes noteworthy post-minimalist work. Their collection eventually came to include work from artists such as pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, photographers Cindy Sherman and Lorna Simpson, minimalist Robert Mangold and post-minimalist Richard Tuttle.
In 1992, the Vogels decided to transfer the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art because it charges no admission, doesn’t sell donated works, and they wanted their art to belong to the public.
I can hardly get my brain around this couple as they are the sorts of people I fear are becoming extinct from our world. I am sad because I want to have known them.
Yet my life has been enriched by their example.
QUOTES FROM THE DOCUMENTARY
They were “participating in the growing of a culture…”
“They gave up their lives for art. They lived only for art, loving it and caring for it. They are pure people.”
“There are no collectors in the world who would give their collection to a museum after they had sold their apartment on Park Avenue, their house in Aspen and their yacht and are left with only food money. And that’s the Vogels. There are no collectors anywhere in the world who have given everything they have.”
Dorothy Vogel: “The minute it stops becoming fun we will stop.”
The Vogels show us how great life can be made. They prove how little money matters in building and living a rich life grounded in the arts. They remind us how empty the cult of celebrity is.
They could be overlooked by most people as they are passed on the street. And here they are – perhaps the most important art collectors of all time.