Herbert and Dorothy Vogel

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Herbert and Dorothy Vogel

Herbert Vogel (August 16, 1922 – July 22, 2012) and Dorothy Vogel (born 1935), once described as "proletarian art collectors,"[1] worked as civil servants in New York City for more than a half-century while amassing what has been called one of the most important post-1960s art collections in the United States,[2] mostly of minimalist and conceptual art.[3] Herbert Vogel died on July 22, 2012, in a Manhattan nursing home.[4]

Early years[edit]

Herbert Vogel, known as Herb, was the son of a Russian Jewish garment worker from Harlem.[5] He never finished high school and, after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, worked nights as a clerk sorting mail for the United States Postal Service until his retirement in 1979. Dorothy Faye Hoffman is the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish stationery merchant from Elmira, New York.[5] She received a bachelor's degree from Syracuse University and a master's degree from the University of Denver, both in library science, and worked until her retirement in 1990 as a librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library.[6]

Herbert and Dorothy married in 1962, a year after they met, in Elmira.[7] Early in their marriage, they took painting classes at New York University, but later gave up painting in favor of collecting. They had no children, lived very frugally, and shared their living space with fish, turtles, and cats named after famous painters.[8][9]

Early acquisitions[edit]

One of their earliest acquisitions was a work by Giuseppe Napoli that Herb bought before marrying Dorothy. They bought a ceramic piece by Pablo Picasso to celebrate their engagement. A piece called Crushed Car Parts by American sculptor John Chamberlain was their first post-wedding acquisition.[10]

The couple used Dorothy's income to cover their living expenses and instead of eating in restaurants or travelling, they used Herb's income, which peaked at $23,000 annually,[11] for art. They did not buy for investment purposes, choosing only pieces they personally liked and could carry home on the subway or in a taxi.[12] They bought directly from the artists, often paying in installments. Once, according to The Washington Post, they received a collage from environmental artist Christo in exchange for cat-sitting.[13] In 1975, they held the first exhibition of their collection, at the Clocktower Gallery in lower Manhattan.[9]

The collection[edit]

They amassed a collection of over 4,782 works, which they displayed, and also stored in closets and under the bed, in their rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.[14][15] Though their focus was mainly conceptual art and minimalist art,[16] the collection also includes noteworthy post-minimalist work.[10] Their collection eventually came to include work from artists such as pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, photographers Cindy Sherman and Lorna Simpson, minimalist Robert Mangold and post-minimalist Richard Tuttle.

In 1992, the Vogels decided to transfer the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art because it charges no admission, does not sell donated works, and they wanted their art to belong to the public.[17] In late 2008, they launched The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States along with the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.[18] The program donated 2,500 works to 50 institutions across 50 states and was accompanied by a book with the same name.


Megumi Sasaki has made two documentaries about the Vogels.

Released in 2008, Herb and Dorothy focused on the story of the Vogels, how they amassed their collection, and their donation of it to the National Gallery of Art. It won six awards at five different film festivals.[19][20][21][22]

Released in 2013, Herb and Dorothy 50x50 continued from when the previous documentary had ended, and concentrated on the distribution of fifty works from the collection to one museum in each of the fifty states within the U.S. as well as the role that the Vogels and some of the artists had in their exhibition.[23]

Friendships with notable artists[edit]

The Vogels bought art from and became close friends with influential New York artists of the second half of the 20th century including Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, and many of the artists listed below.[10]

List of recipient museums[edit]

The recipient museums of the Vogel Collection's Fifty Works for Fifty States program are:

List of artists[edit]

The artists included in the Vogels' gifts are:

See also[edit]


  • National Gallery of Art, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, Washington DC, National Gallery of Art, 2008, ISBN 0-615-23271-X
  • Paoletti. John T., From Minimal to Conceptual Art: Works from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, Washington DC, National Gallery of Art, 1994, ISBN 0-89468-206-7


  1. ^ Tully, Judd (7 August 2012). "Remembering Herbert Vogel, The Postman Who Amassed One of America's Greatest Art Collections". ARTINFO. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  2. ^ "Collector Herbert Vogel has died aged 89". Art Media Agency. 24 July 2012. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  3. ^ Pes, Javier (24 July 2012). "US collector extraordinaire dies aged 89". The Art Newspaper. Archived from the original on 4 January 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Herbert Vogel obituary". The Washington Post. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b Tablet Magazine accessed Jan. 3, 2011
  6. ^ "Herbert Vogel". Herb & Dorothy 50X50. Archived from the original on 25 November 2019. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  7. ^ "Vogel 50x50". vogel5050.org. Retrieved June 4, 2011.
  8. ^ Miller, Stephen (23 July 2012). "REMEMBRANCES: HERBERT VOGEL 1922-2012 Longtime Collector of Works From Before Artists Emerged". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  9. ^ a b D'Arcy, David (16 January 1992). "The Unlikely Medici : A Pair of Art Fans Assemble What May Be the 'Premier Collection' of Its Type". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  10. ^ a b c "Vogel 50x50: The Collection Goes Public". Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  11. ^ Martin, Douglas (23 July 2012). "Herbert Vogel, Fabled Art Collector, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  12. ^ Akst, Daniel (23 July 2012). "In the art world, Herbert Vogel was a mailman who delivered". Newsday. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  13. ^ Schudel, Matt (2 July 2012). "Herbert Vogel, unlikely art collector and benefactor of National Gallery, dies at 89". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  14. ^ Esman, Abigail (22 July 2012). "Great American Art Collector Herbert Vogel Dies". Forbes. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  15. ^ Hoffman, Allison (31 December 2009). "The masterpiece under the bed: Film celebrates couple's eclectic collection of contemporary art". Tabletmag.com. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  16. ^ Beckman, Rachel (2008-06-19). "'Herb and Dorothy': You Can't Spell Heart Without Art". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-06-17.
  17. ^ Gilbert, Sophie (23 July 2012). "Herbert Vogel, Art Collector, Dies". Washingtonian. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  18. ^ "The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  19. ^ "Hamptons International Film Festival » Awards". East Hampton, NY: Hamptons International Film Festival. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-22. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  20. ^ Comita, Jenny (November 2008). "Perfect Vision". W Magazine. New York, NY, USA: Condé Nast. Culture > Art & Design. ISSN 0162-9115. OCLC 1781845. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  21. ^ "Herb & Dorothy". arthousefilmsonline.com. New York, NY: Arthouse Films / New Video. July 2009. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  22. ^ "HBO Audience Awards". ptownfilmfest.org. 2009. Archived from the original on 2013-10-02. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  23. ^ O’Sullivan, Michael (2013-10-03). "'Herb and Dorothy 50x50' movie review". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Retrieved 2013-10-03.

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