Museums in all 50 states, including the Weisman, will share in a wealth of works amassed by a colorful N.Y. couple.
Nothing about Dorothy and Herbert Vogel says major art collectors. Not their heritage, nor their jobs, their money, their style or even their height.
Born of working-class parents -- her father sold stationery, his was a tailor, both moms were homemakers -- they grew up with modest expectations and took ordinary jobs.
He was a postal clerk, she a Brooklyn librarian. He deliberately clashed his clothes, topping plaid pants with a favorite houndstooth jacket and boldly checked shirt. They kept cats. Lots and lots of cats, and turtles, and fish. Each scraped in at barely 5 feet, short enough to be condescended to by pretty much any of the svelte swans fluttering at the front desks of Soho art galleries.
Such liabilities aside, Dorothy and Herb were -- and are -- big players in the rarefied, often snooty art world. In 1992, when they decided to turn their collection over to the National Gallery of Art, it took five trucks to haul it to Washington, D.C. That was 2,400 drawings, sculptures and paintings by 20th-century modernists from Christo and Donald Judd to Sol LeWitt and Andy Warhol that they crammed into a dinky one-bedroom apartment.
Even after divesting, they went right on buying art. Their collection now tops 4,000 pieces, too much even for the National Gallery.
Last year, with help from the Washington museum, they launched a national program, "Fifty Works for Fifty States," in which one museum in every state will get 50 pieces of art from their collection.
In Minnesota they picked the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, a modernist institution best known for a complementary collection of early 20th-century American art.
"I thought it was really wild and wonderful that these people who live very modest lives and wouldn't appear to fit into the New York art scene devoted their lives to making this collection," said Weisman director Lyndel King. "It confirmed for me that you can devote your life to art and you don't have to have money."
They saved his paycheck for art
Now retired, the couple are active but don't travel much and probably will not visit the Weisman when their "Fifty Works" show opens Oct. 23.
Drawings dominate the Weisman gift, by artists ranging from figurative painter Will Barnet to sculptor Jene Highstein. There are some paintings and various works in other media, including a sculpture by Alan Shields and an electronic piece by Robert Barry. Fifteen of the drawings are by Lisa Bradley and 11 by Richard Tuttle. The Vogels and the National Gallery picked the art, which the Weisman was still unpacking earlier this month.
King, who has not met the couple, said that while the Vogels are "not unsophisticated," what set them apart is that "they really cared about the work, not the status of the artist or their own social status."
As newlyweds in the 1960s they both took painting and drawing classes and roamed the Manhattan galleries. Soon they dropped all pretense of making art and devoted their time to building a serious collection. At their peak they'd go to as many as 25 shows per week and soon were cramming their purchases under the bed, into closets, dangling them from the ceiling and piling boxes atop crates.
To pay for their addiction, they dedicated her salary to necessities (rent, groceries) and his to art.
Collecting occupied "every spare moment of the day," they wrote in a 1981 catalogue. "It means rushing through dinner to go to an opening, ... missing a movie or a play because there is no time, getting up early on Sunday morning because there is no time, having to schedule supermarket visits or else we would have no food in the house."
By the time the National Gallery took over, they had crammed so much into their tiny flat that "the actual apartment had reduced itself to maybe 15 square feet," curator Jack Cowart explained in the catalogue "Fifty Works for Fifty States."
Although they kept a low profile, the Vogels were well known in the art world, especially among artists who appreciated their candor, zeal and spontaneous dinners at local ethnic restaurants. As one pal put it, "When curators come from Europe they visit the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and the Vogels' apartment."
Many of the works they picked are small, to suit their space constraints. Often they are more personal things, innovative ideas the artists were experimenting with. That freshness prompted the late minimalist sculptor Sol LeWitt, a longtime friend, to describe theirs as "the best collection in the country."
Mary Abbe 612-673-4431