Herb and Dorothy Vogel at the National Gallery. They amassed a valuable collection of contemporary art over the years on a modest income. (Fine Line Media)

After-hours at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. A small group of significant ­donors seated around a conference table slip on ­print-handling gloves and then— with Christmas-morning-like anticipation—turn their attention to the large shipping crate that a curator is carefully unpacking. It’s a scene that has already taken or soon will be taking place at 49 other museums, one in each state: the opening of a gift of 50 works of art sent by Herb and Dorothy Vogel.

The backstory to the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection…New York-born Herb, a high-school dropout and aspiring artist who worked a day job as a postal clerk, married Dorothy Hoffman of Elmira, N.Y., a Brooklyn librarian who also became an aspiring painter. The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection is what resulted from their decision shortly thereafter, in the mid-1960s, to collect rather than make art. They earmarked Herb’s modest salary for that purpose, and for much of the next four decades the pair were Zelig-like presences on the New York art scene, easily attending as many as 25 shows a week. In 1990, it would take five full-size moving vans to empty their one-bedroom Upper East Side apartment of the 2,400 works—covering every inch of wall space, stacked in crates and under beds—that they’d so voraciously collected.


Ann S. Lewis
Wall Street Journal