From under the bed and into the gallery.
That’s the expression used by a gallery owner when she got wind of a New York City couple, Dorothy and Herb Vogel, donating 2,500 works of art, with 50 pieces selected to go to each of the 50 states.
Cats and turtles with their art
The Vogels weren’t wealthy collectors. They were a modest couple. Herb was a postal worker and Dorothy was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Beginning with their marriage in 1962, the couple devoted all of Herb’s salary to purchasing art and most of their spare time to meeting artists.
They lived on Dorothy’s modest salary and lived simply with few furnishings and no car. They never had children, but at one time had seven cats and tanks for fish and turtles.
Their tiny one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side once housed 4,000 pieces of art.
“There were boxes, there were crates and there were piles of art with all these cats walking around the stacks,” one artist noted in a documentary film about the couple, “Herb & Dorothy: 50 X 50.”
The Yellowstone Art Museum was the Montana recipient of 50 pieces of art. The seven pencil drawings by the late Stephen Antonakos, known as one of the minimalist artists who helped
establish neon as an art form, are on display through July at the Visible Vault.
Robyn Peterson, executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum, said the Antonakos works are cinematic in nature because when you view all of them together, the geometric shapes appear to bounce around, giving the drawings movement. When the YAM’s share of the Vogel collection arrived in 2009, it was like opening a Christmas gift.
“All of us were excited when the package arrived,” Peterson said. “We were surprised at how diverse it was.”
The YAM’s share of the collection is depicted in “Herb & Dorthy,” the second of two films about the Vogels by Megumi Sasaki. It will be screened on Thursday, June 26, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the YAM.
Peterson said the YAM was selected as Montana’s recipient of a portion of the collection because of its commitment to contemporary art. Dorothy, now 79, said in a recent phone interview that she has never visited the YAM, but Ruth Fine at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., recommended the YAM as a suitable recipient of part of their vast collection.
The Vogel’s collection is worth millions of dollars. The Vogels chose art from the minimalist and conceptual art movements and were able to purchase drawings, paintings and sculpture from emerging artists in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s in New York City. They visited artist studios and attended openings at galleries in SoHo and Manhattan.
Dorothy talked about meeting Antonakos at his SoHo studio decades ago. Antonakos, who was born in Greece but lived most of his life in New York, died last August at the age of 86.
“Stephen’s studio was in a beautiful loft. His apartment and studio were so clean and lovely. Mine was utter chaos,” Dorothy said. “He told us about the projects he was doing. The process was way beyond me. It had to do with gases. We just appreciated the aesthetic of it.”
Dorothy took painting classes to better understand art, but Herb was the more accomplished artist of the two.
“We were going to all the openings and starting to collect works and then we realized that other people were much better than we were. After a while, we gave up painting,” Dorothy said.
But Dorothy did manage to save works by Herb and herself and for the first time, they will be on exhibit at Bozeman College in Maine later this year.
“I’m excited to be an exhibited artist,” Dorothy said.
If it fits, buy it
Sometimes they argued over which piece to buy, but in the end they always came to an agreement over the artwork they added to their collection.
“The only rules were, ‘Can we afford it and will it fit in our house,’” Dorothy said.
Dorothy said she and Herb were inspired to donate their collection by the distribution of the Kress Collection, which provided for European works being donated to every city where there was a Kress variety store.
In his later years Herb was blind and so the couple quit going to exhibits and Dorothy said she has quit collecting since Herb passed away in 2012. Dorothy is content with giving the collection away, even though it was such a big part of her life for four decades.
“People ask me how I feel about giving it all away. It’s not in my apartment, but I still feel it’s mine because it’s still in our name. I’m happy we could do that,” Dorothy said.