The story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a postal worker and librarian who amassed a world class collection of contemporary art, captivated both the art world and art outsiders alike. ”Herb and Dorothy” was not just a story of an unlikely pair who paved their own way in an insular art world but it was also a testament to how art connects people emotionally and viscerally. The Vogel’s collection of 5,000 works were donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1992. The National Gallery, unable to showcase the collection in its entirety, was challenged to properly pay homage to the collection while recognizing the enormity of the Vogels gift. The NGA and the Vogels devised a plan to broaden the audience, and the sequel to Herb and Dorothy trails the collectors following their decision to gift 50 works to 50 states.
The film takes viewers on a cultural road trip giving us a glimpse into curatorial process and visitor outreach. Neither the institutions nor the Vogels had much say in what pieces each museum would acquire. Museums curated their story in their own way based on what they received; some reached out to the artists for input, others worked with the Vogels, while many were left to their own devices.
The movie posed some very thoughtful questions about how the Vogels viewed their collection and how some of the artists felt about the collection being split up. Ultimately their diverging opinions caused one long standing rift in the relationship with a prominent artist and the Vogels; the film deftly examines the emotional toll this took on those involved.
There was a clear change in Herb Vogel’s health in the sequel. Mobility had become an issue as Herb Vogel’s health deteriorated. As Dorothy became his caretaker and spokesperson his introversion became prominent and he became withdrawn. The interplay between Herb’s mobility and their ability to collect slowly brought to light some very interesting revelations about how Herb Vogel viewed his collection in the broader context of Art History.
Their collection was created under a unique set of circumstances that is hard to replicate today. The Vogels purchased their art through cultivating direct, personal relationships with artists. By eschewing the galleries and dealers they cut out the political process that influences “who” buys art and how that influences its value. Herb Vogel recognized this dynamic and knew that their unique story in and of itself made history. Once this realization was made collecting no longer seemed to be a motivation. A telling example of this was when the couple went to Art Basel for a screening of the original Herb and Dorothy. The concept of the “art fair” seemed to be energizing to Dorothy and draining to Herb. This game changing moment shows the transition of the Vogels as passionate bystanders instead of active participants.
Filming for 50 X 50 was nearly complete when Herb Vogel passed away last summer, and the director beautifully showed life for Dorothy after Herb’s passing. I didn’t think it was possible for the couple to endear themselves to me any more than they did in the first film, and the sequel successfully shows the couple’s transformation from a cultural phenomenon to a cultural legacy. That legacy was so brilliantly personified by the reactions of children to their collection throughout the film.
Herb and Dorothy is a delightful film that will bring a smile to your face while teaching you valuable lessons about how you process and experience art.
The movie is being shown in limited release in numerous cities throughout the U.S. In Southern California, it is running at the Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and the Town Center 5 in Encino. It’s also being shown at the Downtown Independent. For additional theatres and run dates, click here.