In Memoriam: Herbert Vogel, visionary collector of contemporary art, 89
WASHINGTON ― Connoisseur and collector of contemporary art Herbert Vogel died from natural causes at Kateri Residence, New York City, on July 22. He was considered by many to be a visionary and among the earliest collectors who championed minimal and conceptual art in the 1960s.
After marrying Dorothy Faye Hoffman in 1962, he inspired her to join his pursuits, using his salary as a U.S. postal clerk to purchase art while living on what she earned as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Over five decades they redefined what it meant to be an art collector. Despite their modest income and small apartment, they amassed a world-class collection of more than 5,000 works that have been distributed to museums throughout the nation, with the majority going to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Their story has inspired generations of passionate contemporary art collectors.
“The radical expansion of intellectual and stylistic expressions in many media by European and American artists since the 1960s is reflected in the diversity of the works that Herb and Dorothy collected over five decades,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We will miss Herb’s astute eye and wry sense of humor and we give our heartfelt condolences to Dorothy. We are forever grateful for their generosity in pledging so much of their collection to the nation.”
Herbert Vogel was born in New York City on Aug. 16, 1922, the son of Nathan Vogel, a Russian Jewish tailor, and Bessie Maiden Vogel, a homemaker. He grew up in Manhattan and developed a love for animals, caring for an assortment of pets such as turtles, fish and cats throughout his life. After serving stateside in the U.S. Army during World War II, he worked as a U.S. postal clerk. He did not finish high school but he did spend his spare time in art museums and taking classes in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts and in painting at New York University. His art education was further enriched by the time he spent at the Cedar Bar, a meeting place for artists such as David Smith and Franz Kline. One of Vogel’s earliest acquisitions in the 1950s was a work by Giuseppi Napoli, a mid-century artist working in New York.
After their marriage Herbert introduced Dorothy to the art museums of the nation’s capital, including the National Gallery of Art. Upon their return to Manhattan, she joined her husband in taking classes in drawing and painting at New York University. They rented a studio with another artist, painting in their spare time and squeezing in visits to galleries on weekends.
Their first joint purchase of art was a small crushed-metal sculpture by John Chamberlain in 1962. They were attracted to minimal art, particularly that of artist and collector Sol LeWitt, who introduced them to talented, emerging artists, such as Carl Andre. Through their formative relationship with LeWitt and Dan Graham, the Vogels collected these artists’ early work and that of a wide spectrum of their contemporaries, including Richard Artschwager, Lynda Benglis, John Cage, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Donald Judd, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Edda Renouf, Joel Shapiro, Richard Tuttle, and dozens of others. In recent years, the Vogels have also acquired carefully chosen work by a variety of other important artists, including Andy Goldsworthy, James Siena, and Pat Steir.
In 1992, then-director of the National Gallery of Art J. Carter Brown announced at the National Press Club in Washington that the gallery would receive more than 1,000 works from the Vogels through partial gift and purchase. The announcement led to a story about the couple on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes in 1995. Under the directorship of Earl A. Powell III, the Vogel Collection continued to grow. To date, the National Gallery of Art has acquired 927 works through partial gift and purchase, and the Vogels have promised 275 more.
In 2008, the Vogels―facilitated by the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services―distributed 2,500 works from their collection to museums across the country, with 50 works going to a selected art institution in each of the 50 states. A website (www.vogel5050.org) tells the ongoing story of the project called Vogel 50×50. Two of the beneficiaries are featuring their gifts in exhibitions this summer: “The Collecting Impulse: Fifty Works from Herbert and Dorothy Vogel,” at The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, through Aug. 12, and “The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Rhode Island,” at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, July 20 through Dec. 2.
The Vogels gave nearly 400 works by Buffalo native Charlie Clough to the Anderson Gallery, University of Buffalo, in 2011 and nearly 600 works to the Columbia Art Museum, South Carolina, one year later.
Through the years, selections from the Vogel collection have appeared in numerous exhibitions in Europe and the United States, including two major traveling shows organized by the National Gallery of Art: “From Minimal to Conceptual Art: Works from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection” (1994) and “Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the Vogel Collection” (2002). In 2009, an award-winning movie, Herb & Dorothy, was produced by Megumi Sasaki, who is working on a new movie, Herb & Dorothy 50×50.
The Vogels were presented the College Art Association’s Centennial Award for Patronage in 2011. One year later, the Dallas Art Fair announced that the inaugural recipients of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Award presented by Gallerist were artists Hugh Scott-Douglas and Jason Brinkerhoff.
In 1994, the Vogels’ names were carved in marble among other benefactors’ names in the Sixth Street entrance lobby of the National Gallery of Art, West Building, on the National Mall. Works from their collection currently on view at the National Gallery of Art include two wall drawings by Sol LeWitt, sculptures by Lynda Benglis and Richard Tuttle, a painting by Sylvia Plimack Mangold, and a collage by Howardena Pindell.
During an interview in 1994 for an exhibition catalogue, the Vogels were asked, “Do you remember what initially attracted you to minimal and conceptual art?” They responded:
Dorothy Vogel: “To us it was challenging but it wasn’t that revolutionary. It evolved from what was before. It was rejecting the abstract expressionists, but it made sense.”
Herbert Vogel: “The work might have been right, but the people weren’t ready for that kind of work. So it was revolutionary for many, many people, which very often happens when something does break convention or tradition. Later on, if it is very, very good, it will be picked up by history.”
Herbert Vogel is survived by his wife of 50 years, Dorothy Vogel; a sister, Paula Antebi; two nephews, Julian and Adam Antebi; one niece, Nadine Antebi; three great-nephews; and his cat, Archie.
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