Herb and Dorothy: The Feel-Good Movie of the Summer
Last night David and I saw Megumi Sasaki’s much-hyped documentary Herb and Dorothy, which chronicles the habits of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, New York’s most unlikely art collectors. The film absolutely lives up to the hype.
Herb and Dorothy is a heartwarming, intimate portrait of a working-class couple completely obsessed with collecting art. But not just any art: their taste tends toward the esoteric, and over the past four decades the couple has amassed an unparalleled collection of conceptual and minimalist work. At last count, their collection included some 4800 pieces, many of which have been donated to the National Gallery of Art.
Herb is a retired postal worker, Dorothy a retired librarian. Instead of having children, buying creature comforts, or doing whatever else people do with their money, the Vogels bought art. Lots of it. Their only criteria was that they could afford it, carry it home on the bus or in a taxi, and that it could fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Most of it was purchased directly from the artists—at times sidestepping their dealers—in a maneuver that alienated some but was widely excused because of who they were. If Herb and Dorothy were interested in an artist’s work, they purchased it aggressively; obsessively documenting every stage of their development (especially the ones rejected by the artists themselves).
The film documents Herb and Dorothy’s decision to donate the collection to the National Gallery; a bold and almost unheard of step for a couple that still struggled to make ends meet and was turning down lucrative buyout offers left and right for a collection conservatively estimated to be worth millions. Their reasoning was simple. The National Gallery of Art is always free, they never deaccession works, and the collection belongs to the people.
For Herb and Dorothy Vogel, buying art was was completely divorced from any consideration of investment potential. They bought what they loved, allowing them to accumulate a deep and resonating body of objects of unprecedented integrity.
There are three screenings of Herb and Dorothy today at Northwest Film Forum. Go see this movie!