How an ordinary couple amassed one of the greatest art collections in history
Dorothy and Herbert Vogel began collecting art in the 1960s. Herb was a mail sorter at the post office and Dorothy was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. With a passion for art they decided to live on Dorothy’s salary and use Herb’s salary (never more than $23,000 a year) to collect art. They lived frugally in a rent-controlled two room apartment in Manhattan, all the while amassing a collection of art that amounted to thousands of pieces.
Their collection is primarily modern, minimalist and conceptual art. Many of their pieces came from then lesser-known artists such as when they acquired pieces from Christo & Jeanne-Claude in exchange for taking care of the artists’ cat Gladys while they were away installing Valley Curtain in the early 1970s. The Vogels befriended many of the artists they bought from and gradually became known collectors in the art world. Chuck Close called them “the mascots of the art world.” Their collection became a who’s who of modern art.
Ultimately the Vogels collection amounted to 4,782 pieces, all crammed inside their NYC apartment with the couple, their cats, and their turtles. Dorothy insisted they never stored work in their oven, but otherwise every other space seemed to contain art. After decades in the making they decided it was time to unload their collection and invite the public to experience it so in 1992 they donated the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.. They chose the National Gallery because the museum is free to the public and never sells pieces in its collection. Similarly, the Vogels never sold any of the art in their collection, a collection conservatively estimated to be valued in the millions of dollars.
In 2008 they worked with the National Gallery and ran a program where they donated 50 pieces to a museum in each of the 50 states. The 2008 documentary Herb & Dorothy documents their world famous collection, the collection of two working class art fans who loved art for art’s sake.