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Art Review: Herb and Dorothy Vogel

Building an art collection seems like a practice far removed from the lives of average people. Purchasing art feels like something only wealthy people can do. So how is it that one of the most formidable art collections in our country was built on the salaries of a librarian and a postal clerk?

I am speaking of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a New York couple that put together a world-class collection while living in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. The Vogels made a name for themselves in the 1960s by relentlessly attending art openings, and their art collecting practices became the subject of the 2008 documentary, Herb & Dorothy.

Over the decades, the Vogels purchased new works from emerging artists. They bought contemporary art without reservation. Even if critics thought the work was rubbish, the Vogels remained unfazed. They bought what they liked.

In 1992, their art collection outgrew their modest apartment and was moved to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. 16 years after this transfer, their collection had doubled to more than 4,000 works of art.

Faced with this abundance, the Vogels went forward with an unprecedented, nation-wide gift project – 50 works for 50 states. This ”50 x 50” initiative was announced in 2008, and since then, half of the Vogel’s comprehensive collection has been spread across the country. In Kansas, the Vogel gift was given to the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas where it was the subject of the 2011 exhibition ”NetWorks.”

The story of the Vogels is an incredible one, and their unpretentious, but steady, art collecting redefined the nature of art philanthropy in this country. And while their legacy continues to inspire, it is important to remember that it all started with the simple gesture of buying what they liked and providing direct support for the artists of our time.