‘Herb & Dorothy’ on last adventure 

click to enlarge Herb & Dorothy 50X50
  • Courtesy photo
  • “Herb & Dorothy 50X50” describes what happens to Herb and Dorothy Vogel’s amazing collection of modern works.
In 1962, a postal worker and a librarian purchased their first piece of art together as a married couple. Over the next 50 years, the ineffably charming Herb and Dorothy Vogel would amass a collection of nearly 5,000 works of modern art, which they crammed into their one-bedroom New York City apartment.

Art world legends, the Vogels were the subject of Megumi Sasaki’s 2008 documentary “Herb & Dorothy.” The follow-up, “Herb & Dorothy 50X50,” opens at the Roxie today.

While it is recommended to see the first excellent film, Sasaki lays down enough groundwork that the sequel stands alone.

As Herb and Dorothy get older, they realize the art has to go somewhere. The collection — which boasts names such as Christo and Jean-Claude, Chuck Close, Sol LeWitt, John Chamberlain and other pioneers in conceptual, minimal and modern art — is worth millions.

But the Vogels opt to donate the collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The problem? The National doesn’t have room for it all, a wry irony given that the Vogels’ tiny apartment did.

So National Gallery curator Ruth Fine came up with “Vogel 50X50,” a donation program to bequeath 50 works to one institution in each of the 50 states. Sasaki’s sequel follows the process, and like the first film, includes interviews with art luminaries.

Herb, who died in 2012 at 89, is a frail figure in the film, but nonetheless remains animated about their collection.

“What we did then is now art history,” he says.

He and Dorothy — who monitors the “Vogel 50X50” program and its website diligently — work with curators to create mini-collections, distributing equal amounts of sculpture, illustration, painting and mixed-media works to the varied recipients.

The art — much of which is minimal, from a piece of paper with a blob of paint to sculptures made with one wire — can be “difficult,” Dorothy admits. But it is what the Vogels liked, and what they could afford when they started collecting.

The Vogels treated the artists they collected like family, nurturing relationships rich in reciprocal respect and affection.

Like loving parents, Herb and Dorothy clipped and saved every newspaper article, blurb, gallery poster and flier they could on their artists. They saved them in organized files now housed at the Smithsonian in the Archive of American Art, all 42 boxes.

Sasaki’s films strike poignant, even emotional cords. The Vogels broke down barriers in the art world — its jaded reputation, snobbery, ego-centrism and commercial sensationalism — by virtue of their own simplicity and sincerity. They purchased art for no other reason than because they loved it, unlike many who treat it like real estate, hoping to turn a profit.


Herb & Dorothy 50X50

Starring Dorothy Vogel, Herb Vogel, Ruth Fine

Directed by Megumi Sasaki

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 27 minutes

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Lauren Gallagher

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