DVD Review: Herb and Dorothy

7 Sep


I always enjoy this series of Art and Artist documentaries (available through the good folks at Madman) so I was eager to see this one. I wasn’t disappointed. Herb and Dorothy Vogel are a damn cute pair whose charisma and style carry this documentary. It’s a charming and insightful film on some New Yawk Celebrity Art Collectors turned Celebs who started out humbly as a librarian and a postal worker; the two managing to live a meagre existence on a librarian’s salary while spending every penny of a posties wage on art.

Director Megumi Sasaki follows the Vogels into the studios of their artists and friends as well as their own flat which, along with the one of the worlds most comprehensive collections of minimalist and contemporary American Art, is bursting at the seams with more cats, turtles and fish than a cat-turtle-fish jamboree.

In 1992, the Vogels made headlines that shocked the art world: their entire collection was moved to the National Gallery of Art, the vast majority of it as an outright gift to the institution where it could be now safely housed, away from the threat of burst aquariums, cat fur and spilt coffee.. Many of the works they acquired at modest prices had appreciated so significantly that their collection became worth several million dollars, yet the Vogels never sold a single piece to breakdown the collection.

It’s incredibly refreshing to see these two, driven by a love for art and a desire to immerse themselves in it, embracing work that was considered incredibly difficult and unlovable by many at the time. They attempt to articulate their reasons for buying, with statements like ‘because I think it’s beautiful’ or simply interesting and new. With this naivety it could be easy to forget just how visionary they turned out to be. And though they were a librarian and a postal worker, they also studied art and were well and truly immersed in the scene.

They were guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Within these limitations, most of those they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists. Their circle includes: Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert and Sylvia Mangold, Lynda Benglis and Pat Steir.

Dell Stewart

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