Dorothy Vogel

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March 26: Dorothy Vogel
Dorothy Vogel; Art collector and Benefactor
Born in: Elmira, New York When Dorothy married Herbert Vogel: January 1962 How much art they own: About 4,000 paintings, objects, drawings, photographs, prints and illustrated books

Civil servants by profession without independent financial means, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel have acquired some 4,000 objects, primarily drawings, since their marriage in 1962. Today these works constitute one of the most remarkable collections of contemporary art in America. Their intention, as they began, was not to build "a collection" but rather to find works that they wanted to live with.

In January 1962, Dorothy Faye Hoffman married Herbert Vogel, 13 years her senior. The small synagogue ceremony took place in Dorothy's hometown of Elmira, New York, where her father was a stationery merchant and her mother, by then deceased, had been a homemaker. The bride had no particular interest in the visual arts, but rather was focused on classical music and theater. By contrast, Herbert was deeply immersed in painting and drawing at the time of their marriage. According to Dorothy, "art is Herby's only interest, except for animals." He immediately set out to share these twin passions with his new wife, who was eager to learn more about art and was amenable to the cats, tropical fish and turtles that came to be a constant fixture in their home.

Dorothy's association with Herb introduced her to the practice of painting as well as the study of art history. Shortly after their marriage, the couple rented a studio space at 41 Union Square, and Dorothy, like Herb, took weekly painting and drawing classes at NYU. They also devoted part of each weekend to prowling New York art galleries, then a far smaller world than now.

The Vogels credit the various directions in their collection to their friendships with artists. Dorothy and Herb often reiterate how their conversations with artists are essential not only to their understanding of individual oeuvres, but also to the expansion of their broader aesthetic appreciation. The art community's awareness of the limited funds the Vogels could devote to their acquisitions brought them considerable admiration, as did their enthusiastic response to a range of contemporary practices, which included work others found difficult to appreciate.

The Vogels provided moral and modest financial support to relatively unknown artists who would later receive international acclaim. Among them are Robert Barry, Sol LeWitt, Edda Renouf and Richard Tuttle — all of whom became close friends with the Vogels. By the 1970s, when their collection became widely exhibited and recognized by the international art press, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel likewise were acknowledged for their early, prescient attention to these artists.

In 1992 the National Gallery of Art, Washington, announced an agreement that established the gallery's stewardship of the Vogel's collection. Since then 1,100 paintings, objects, drawings, photographs, prints and illustrated books have entered the gallery's collection or are promised gifts. During this period, the Vogels have continued to acquire art (as purchases and gifts from artists), and their collection has doubled in size from some 2,400 works to approximately 4,000 objects. The sheer size of the collection — far too large to be reasonably placed in any one institution — led to the development of "The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States" project, which enables the Vogels to share the gift of their collection nationwide. This project has received essential support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

"Fifty Works for Fifty States" encompasses 2,500 drawings, paintings, objects, prints and photographs by 177 artists. The Vogels selected participating institutions using a range of personal criteria. Their goal was to bring work by contemporary artists to institutions that might otherwise not have been able to acquire them. "The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States" is an initiative of creative generosity that places the Vogels, celebrated and influential participants in the arena of contemporary art, among the world's top art benefactors.