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Arty Farty Friday: Herb and Dorothy

I’ve been meaning to clean up my blogging habits and trying get some kind of rhythm going, but I’ve been also wanted to share with you some of the great finds of this summer, especially ones connected to art.

That’s why I hereby announce the start of Arty Farty Friday, a series of posts devoted to artists, their works, and the art world in general.


Today I’d like to share with you the extraordinary story of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, a middle-class couple living in New York, who amassed the largest and most important collection of contemporary art despite being on a limited budget.
Their collection consisted of over 4,782 works, which they kept displayed, but also stored in closets and under the bed, in their one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.


The couple would lived on Dorothy’s librarian salary, while Herb’s postal clerk income was spent acquiring art from relatively unknown New York artists.

They’d spend all their free time visiting artists in studios, attending exhibitions, and expanding on their enormous art stash.

Their collection, which was donated to The National Gallery in Washington in 1991, focuses on minimalist and conceptual art because, by their own admittion, other types of art were just too expensive for their meagre budget.


Although they were regarded as the mascots of the NY art scene, and became authorities in “the next big thing”, it wasn’t until the 2008 documentary titled Herb and Dorothy that the extent of their passion for art was revealed to a wider audience.

This is a story about the love for art, a love that is all-consuming but ultimately incredibly rewarding.

You can watch the whole documentary here.

In a time when artworks go for astronomical sums and have become the safest way to invest money therefore pricing it out of the market for mere mortals, this pair redefined what it meant to be an art collector.

The Vogels collected works by Chuck Close, Pat Steir, Robert Mangold, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Richard Long, Julian Schnabel, Jeff Koons, and Richard Tuttle, just to name a few.


All of these artists works are worth a fortune at auction, but I don’t think it ever even crossed Herb and Dorothy’s mind to actually sell of any pieces from their stash.

When their collection was turned over to The National Gallery and the couple received an annuity to keep them financially secure, they just continued to buy more art.

Herb and Dorothy was so successful that a follow-up documentary was created which continued the remarkable story of the Vogals.


Herb and Dorothy: 50×50 follows the launch of The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a program donated 2,500 works to 50 institutions across 50 states.

To watch the whole documentary go here.

I really do urge you to check the documentaries out, even if you’re not all that interested in art.

This is a touching tale of what happens when an art lover is also a hoarder exhibiting compulsive behaviour, of how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things with enough commitment and quite a bit sacrifice to their own personal comfort.


Ultimately, it’s a love story about two kindred spirits who share a passion and allow it to consume their life and it’ll warm your heart.

Word of warming, before you rush off and start buying art in a Vogel-inspired haze, I think it’s important to mention that Herb had an incredibly eye for spotting artists who would go on to become acclaimed and sought after.

He would acquire works by an artist that especially moved him at an alarming pace, revealing his compulsive nature and, luckily, many of these pieces turned out to be a sound investment.

Secondly, by their own admission, not all the artwork the Vogals bought for their collection stood the test of time and is valuable now.

You can take The Collector Challenge to test your eye for art by trying to pick out works from the Vogel collection.

Let me tell you, I’ve never gotten so many wrong answers in one go before, but it’s so much fun.

A Vogal I am not!

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