The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection at the National Gallery of Art
Acquired over the last 45 years, the internationally renowned Vogel Collection of contemporary art comprises primarily drawings, with some significant works of painting and sculpture and a small number of prints, photographs, and illustrated books. The Vogel Collection is best-known for its holdings of so-called minimal, post-minimal, and conceptual art, and the diversity of intellectual and stylistic expressions in a variety of media therein. New York collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel have acquired works by artists whose careers developed after 1960, and in many cases, have assembled large numbers of works by individual artists throughout their careers.
The extraordinary breadth and depth of the collection are even more remarkable considering their Vogels’ modest means. What they may have lacked in material wealth, however, was more than matched by their knowledge and passion for art, their delight in discovering new work and their commitment to particular artists whose work moved them.
Dorothy Vogel was born in Elmira, New York, in 1935, the daughter of a stationery store proprietor. She attended the University of Buffalo and Syracuse University where she received her BA; went on to earn her master's degree in library science from the University of Denver; and pursued a career as a librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library. Herbert Vogel was born in New York City in 1922, the son of a tailor, and grew up in Manhattan. In the 1950s—when he wasn't working as a clerk for the United States Postal Service, wandering around art museums, or taking classes at the New York Institute of Fine Arts—Herbert spent time at the Cedar Bar, a meeting place for artists such as David Smith and Franz Kline.
The Vogels met in 1960 at a reunion of people who had gone to Tamiment, a resort in the Poconos. They married one year later and spent their honeymoon in Washington DC, where Herbert introduced Dorothy to the National Gallery of Art and other museums. Upon their return to New York, Dorothy also began taking classes in drawing and painting at New York University. The couple rented a studio with another artist, painting in their spare time and managing to squeeze in visits to museums and galleries on weekends.
Their first joint purchase of art was a small crashed car sculpture by John Chamberlain in 1962. The Vogels’ friendships with artists Sol LeWitt and Dan Graham, who was then an art dealer, stimulated them to acquire minimal and conceptual art, and greatly influenced their collection. Eventually, they gave up painting and immersed themselves in collecting—living on Dorothy's salary and buying art with Herbert's.
The Vogels were particularly attracted to work by such artists as Will Barnet, Robert Barry, Lynda Benglis, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Edda Renouf, Pat Steir, and Richard Tuttle. With the exception of the collection assembled by Sol LeWitt, no other known private collection of similar work in Europe or America rivals the range, complexity, and quality of art acquired by the Vogels. Their collection has been featured in numerous national and international exhibitions, articles, and television programs.
In 1991, former National Gallery of Art curator Jack Cowart initiated the preservation of the collection and its transfer from New York to the Gallery. Herbert Vogel, as a former federal employee, and Dorothy Vogel were both attracted to this specific affiliation and the Gallery’s national and international curatorial and collection programs.
In 1992, then National Gallery director J. Carter Brown announced at the National Press Club that the Gallery would receive a large portion of the Vogel Collection through partial purchase and as gifts from the Vogels. Under the current director Earl A. Powell III, the Gallery presented the first major exhibition of works from the Vogel Collection at the Gallery, from May 29 through November 27, 1994. From Minimal to Conceptual Art: Works from The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection traveled in 1997 to the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery in Austin and the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. In 1998, it went on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, and the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, Turku, Finland. The exhibition was organized by National Gallery of Art curator Ruth Fine, associate curator, Molly Donovan, and former curator Mark Rosenthal.
In 2002, the National Gallery of Art presented Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the Vogel Collection, the first survey in the United States encompassing four decades of work by these groundbreaking artists. The exhibition was organized by Donovan and was on view at the Gallery from February 3 through June 23, 2002. It then traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, from September 22, 2002, through January 5, 2003.
In April 2008, the Vogels, with the help of the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, are launching a national gift program entitled The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States. It will distribute 2,500 works from their collection throughout the nation, with fifty works going to a selected art institution in each of the fifty states.
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