Published: July 31, 2012
Connoisseur and collector of contemporary art Herbert Vogel died from natural causes at Kateri Residence 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 US 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, D.C. 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 August 16, 1922, the son of Nathan, a Russian Jewish tailor, and Bessie, 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 US Army during World War II, he worked as a US 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 from 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 midcentury artist working in New York.
After their marriage in Dorothy’s hometown of Elmira, N.Y., Herbert introduced her 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, J. Carter Brown, who was then director of the National Gallery of Art, announced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 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. 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 August 12, and “The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Rhode Island” at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, through December 2.
The Vogels gave nearly 400 works by Buffalo native Charlie Clough to the Anderson Gallery, University of Buffalo, New York, in 2011, and nearly 600 works to the Columbia Art Museum, South Carolina, one year later.
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 beloved cat, Archie.
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