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Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie review: 'Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50' is worth a look

Dorothy and Herb Vogel at home with art/photo from
You may have read about Herb Vogel (1922-2012)and his wife, Dorothy Vogel (b. 1935), contemporary art enthusiasts who bought over decades almost 5,000 works of art with their public service salaries, and stored the pieces in their New York one-bedroom apartment.

And you may have seen the documentary by Megumi Sasaki about them and their collection, Herb & Dorothy, which won several awards at five film festivals after its release in 2008.

A sequel, Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50, opened last year, produced and directed again by Ms. Sasaki, who gathered about $220,000 from crowd sourcing to make it.

The Vogels started their collection after they got married in the 1960s, and rather than choosing works based on income potential, they bought what they liked, what they could afford, and what they could take home on the subway or in a taxi.
The Vogels in earlier years/photo from
Herb was a postal worker and Dorothy, a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

They acquired mostly conceptual and minimalist art, and some post-minimalist pieces. Some of the artists represented in the collection were Chuck Close, Barbara Schwartz, Picasso, Judith Shea, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Spencer, and Bettina Werner to name a few.  (Wikipedia lists many more.)

In 1992 the couple chose the National Gallery of Art as a repository for their assembly since it does not charge admission, does not sell art, and is accessible. 

The Vogels wanted the public to own their collection, and because of its size, they began a collaboration in 2008 with the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, on their "50 x 50" project to distribute 50 works each to a museum in all 50 states (totaling 2,500).  

It is publicly unknown how the choices of the museums which received the Vogels' art were made, however, it is perplexing that about 65% of them (32) charge admission which violates one of the Vogels' tenets.  (One, Kentucky's Speed Museum is closed for renovation until 2017.)  

The museums which do not charge admission (17) are  the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, Arkansas Arts Center, Yale University Art Gallery in Connecticut, Southern Illinois University Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas, University of Michigan Museum of Art, and Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota.

Also not charging are Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Missouri, Joslyn Art Museum in Nebraska, Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery in Nevada, Hood Museum of Art in New Hampshire, Weatherspoon Art Museum in North Carolina, South Dakota Art Museum, Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Utah, and the University of Wyoming Art Museum.

Those museums which each house 50 of the Vogels' gifts of art for the public and charge admission (32) are:  the Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, California, Columbia (South Carolina) Museum of Art, Montclair (New Jersey) Art Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Delaware Art Museum, Plains Art Museum in North Dakota, Hawaii's Honolulu Museum of Art, Robert Hull Fleming Museum in Vermont, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Perez Art Museum in Florida, High Museum in Georgia, Boise Art Museum in Idaho, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Iowa, New Orleans Museum of Art in Louisiana, and Maryland's Academy of Art Museum.

Also charging are Harvard Art Museum in Massachusetts, Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin, Mississippi Museum of Art, Yellowstone Art Museum in Montana, New Mexico Museum of Art, Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York, Akron (Ohio) Art Museum, Oklahoma City Museum, Portland (Oregon) Art Museum, Portland (Maine) Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Blanton Museum of Art in Texas, West Virginia's Huntington Museum of Art, and the Seattle Art Museum in Washington. (For more information go to Wikipedia or the Vogels' 50x50 website.)

After Herb died, Dorothy announced that she was closing the collection.  The 2013 film shows their apartment where the Vogels kept their purchases stored in boxes, under their bed, in closets, and wherever they could find space. 

Once the art was removed for transfer, the film's before and after scenes show what a grand difference art can make to sad and barren walls and surroundings.

A comment about the music in 50 x 50 by David Majzlin: It is magnificent, floats, and never obscures the message, capturing by instrument and note, the mood and style of the Vogels whose gifts are enthusiastically welcomed by the people of the United States, especially those who have accessibility.



Virginia MuseumofFineArts said...

Your blog post contains an inaccuracy. The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States was on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts July 20- October 27, 2013. Both Dorothy Vogel and Megum Sasaki appeared at the "Sneak Peak" of the Herb & Dorothy 50x50 film.

No admission was charged for either the exhibition or the film. VMFA is the only museum in the US which is open 365 days a year. General admission is always free.

Patricia Leslie said...

The post did not say Virginia Museum of Fine Arts charged admission. I stated the Virginia museum was an exception to the practice of museums which received the Vogels' art which do charge admission. I have reworded the post to clarify the confusion. Thank you for your comment.