When was the last time you saw an American feature in which the protagonists are senior citizens, age-wise? And when was the last time you saw a long-time happily married couple, vividly and charmingly relating their amazing experiences in life and art.
In “Herb & Dorothy,” director Megumi Sasaki tells the extraordinary story of the Vogels, Herbert, a postal clerk, and Dorothy, a librarian, who have built one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means.
In the early 1960s, when little attention was paid to Minimalist and Conceptual Art, Herb and Dorothy Vogel quietly began purchasing the works of unknown artists. Devoting all of Herb’s salary to purchase art they liked, and living on Dorothy’s paycheck alone, they continued collecting artworks guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and it had to be small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
Within these parameters and limitations, they proved themselves visionaries, blessed with good eyes and even better taste. Indeed, most of those the Vogels supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists, including Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Lynda Benglis, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi, and Lawrence Weiner.
After thirty years of meticulous collecting and buying, the Vogels have accumulated over 2,000 pieces, filling every corner of their tiny one bedroom apartment. “Not even a toothpick could be squeezed into the apartment,” recalls Dorothy, and she ain’t kidding.
In 1992, the Vogels decided to move their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The vast majority of their collection was given as a gift to the institution. Many of the works they acquired have appreciated so significantly over the years that their collection today is worth millions of dollars.
Remarkably, the Vogels never sold a single piece. Today Herb and Dorothy still live in the same apartment in New York with 19 turtles, lots of fish, and one cat. They’ve refilled it with piles of new art they’ve acquired. Among others things, the docu offers different meaning and fresh angle on the notion of urban space, one that diverges radically from that held by Carrie and the other femmes of “Sex and the City.”
Touring extensively the festival circuit, “Herb & Dorothy” film received the Golden Starfish Award for the Best Documentary Film and Audience Award from the 2008 Hamptons International Film Festival. It has also received Audience Awards from the 2008 SILVERDOCS Film Festival and the 2009 Philadelphia Cinefest. Palm Springs International Film Festival named it one of their “Best of Fest” films in 2009.