The beloved art collector Herbert Vogel passed away yesterday at 89 years old. Herb and his wife Dorothy amassed an unprecedented collection of contemporary art with their modest incomes in public service. The couple married in 1962, and the five decades they shared were shaped by their passionate pursuit for the acquisition and understanding of the most innovative art of their time.
Herb and Dorothy developed personal connections with artists through frequent studio visits and rigorous conversations. Through these friendships, they were often able to acquire works at significantly discounted prices or on payment plans, sometimes as little as $10 a month. It’s frequently mentioned that Herb and Dorothy collected intuitively, without much thought about how individual pieces would fit into their collection. Over the years, every surface of their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment became a place for displaying art, and when the walls and ceilings were covered, large storage crates displaced their living room furniture.
As they aged, Herb and Dorothy began to think about the future of their unique collection, and the pair entered into a partnership with the National Gallery of Art. Due the astounding size of their collection, which had grown to include roughly 4000 works, the National Gallery of Art launched the program “Fifty Works for Fifty States,” which dispersed 2500 artworks to public collections across the country. One museum in each state was chosen by Herb and Dorothy to receive 50 carefully selected works that accentuated the permanent collection of the institution. The IMA was honored to accept these gifts—including works by Lynda Benglis, Robert Mangold, Edda Renouf, and Richard Tuttle—which were displayed in the 2008 exhibition titled Collected Thoughts.
Many in Indianapolis had the pleasure of getting to know Herb. Works from their collection were featured in the 1993 exhibition The Poetry of Form: Richard Tuttle Drawings from the Vogel Collection, and in 2003 the couple participated in a public conversation with former IMA director Bret Waller. I was fortunate to meet Herb and Dorothy when they attended the opening of Collected Thoughts. As a junior in college and a new intern at the IMA, I found their quiet dedication deeply inspiring, especially at a time when I was grappling with the practicalities of an uncertain future in the arts during a recession. My conversation with the Vogels was incredibly brief (I was one in a long line of people waiting to meet them), and I didn’t mention my trepidation; but I wonder if Herb sensed it, because he urged me to stay the course and reminded me that contemporary art could always use another champion.