Unique collector Herbert Vogel died Sunday at the age of 89 from natural causes. The most unlikely of collectors, Vogel and his wife Dorothy began their collection in the early 60s, while Herbert was a clerk for the United States Postal Service (which he remained until his retirement), and Dorothy worked at Brooklyn Public Library. With a modest combined income, the couple lived in a one-bedroom apartment in New York, surrounded by their collection of over 5,000 art works.
Having attended a large number of openings and parties in New York over the last 40 years, the Vogels became friends with many of the artists that they bought from, such as Richard Tuttle, Dan Graham, and Sol LeWitt. They were not only important collectors, but also a dynamic and refreshing presence in the wealth-oriented art market of New York. Artist Lawrence Weiner, a friend to the couple, spoke about their contribution to the art world, stating: “I think every culture needs a Vogels…somebody who is more than willing to participate in the growing of a culture and does it as if they were just part of the street life.”
Herbert and Dorothy Vogel remain important figures for many aspiring collectors in the art world, because they proved that wealth was not a requirement for collecting. Using the wages from his job at the US Postal Service, Vogel and his wife were among the first to champion minimal and conceptual art, often bartering with artists directly for a cheap price. The couple’s unique approach to collecting led them to be featured on 60 Minutes, and made them the subject of Megumi Sasaki’s 2008 award-winning documentary Herb & Dorothy. As Dorothy Vogel said in a Q&A session about the film at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, “You can buy art, you don’t have to be rich. You can enrich your life.”
The Vogels could have easily sold their vast and important collection, with an estimated value that totals millions, but instead chose to live amongst their sculptures, paintings and drawings, some of which were kept in boxes because of limited space. The couple bequeathed much of their collection to the National Gallery of Art, where their names are carved on the wall along with other benefactors.
Richard Tuttle, who met the couple in 1968 at his first solo exhibition, has commented on the legacy of Herbert Vogel, stating: “Most of us go through the world never seeing anything. 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.”