LAWRENCE, KS.- The Spencer Museum of Art has been selected as the Kansas institution to receive a gift of 50 works of contemporary art from New York collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, with the help of the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The gifts are part of a national gifts program entitled The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, which is distributing 2,500 works from the Vogels' collection of contemporary art throughout the nation, with 50 works going to a selected art institution in each of the 50 states. The complete list of museums is available at www.nga.gov/press/2008/vogel50x50_a.shtm
The Vogels were guests of honor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., yesterday for a special program celebrating their gift. The couple joined Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, and filmmaker Megumi Sasaki in a conversation about their gifts project and Sasaki’s award-winning documentary Herb and Dorothy. Spencer Museum of Art Director Saralyn Reece Hardy attended the event, which included a screening of the film.
“Dorothy and Herbert Vogel have honored the nation with their historic gift to every state in America,” Hardy says. “The 50 works of art assembled for Kansas will enable the Spencer to share the brilliance of some of the most thoughtful and experimental artists of our time with the public. The generosity of the Vogels to the people of the United States is matched only by their commitment to the contemporary artists whose ideas and work they supported. The Vogels set high standards for philanthropy and have reminded those of us in the arts that the value of art is in its ability to open eyes and minds. “
The best-known aspects of the Vogel Collection are minimalist and conceptual art, but these donations also explore numerous directions of the post-minimalist period, including works of a figurative and expressionist nature. Primarily a collection of drawings, the 2,500 works the Vogels are donating also include paintings, sculptures, photographs, and prints by more than 170 contemporary artists, mainly working in the United States. Though their work is not represented in every one of the institutional gifts, artists in the collection include Will Barnet, Robert Barry, Lynda Benglis, Dan Graham, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Edda Renouf, Pat Steir, Richard Tuttle, and Robert Watts.
“The Spencer’s holdings of concept-based art are not especially strong; therefore, this remarkable gift will deeply impact what we are able to share with our students and other audiences,” says Steve Goddard, SMA senior curator of prints and drawings. “The donation, which includes work by significant artists not currently in the Spencer collections, such as Richard Tuttle, will have an impact on the Spencer not unlike previous major gifts, such as the donation of old master paintings by the Kress Foundation, the master prints donated by the Max Kade Foundation, and the unique collection of Pop Art from the collection of Gene Swenson.”
The Vogel Collection has been characterized as unique among collections of contemporary art, both for the character and breadth of the objects and for the individuals who created it. Herbert Vogel (born 1922), spent most of his working life as an employee of the United States Postal Service, and Dorothy Vogel (born 1935), was a reference librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Setting their collecting priorities above those of personal comfort, the couple used Dorothy’s salary to cover the expenses of daily life and devoted Herbert’s salary to the acquisition of contemporary art. With the exception of the collection formed by their friend Sol LeWitt, an artist, no other known private collection of similar work in Europe or America rivals the range, complexity, and quality of the art the Vogels acquired.
As the first collectors to buy work by many artists who were then unknown to a wide audience, the Vogels offered encouragement at the start of the careers of several figures who went on to achieve considerable acclaim. Thanks to the couple’s continuing close relationships with the artists, many works of art collected by the Vogels were gifts, marking special occasions—such as Dorothy and Herbert’s birthdays and wedding anniversary—and often personally inscribed. In this sense the Vogels’ collection is a reflection of their friendships with artists.
The use of drawing as a primary medium has expanded during the years in which the Vogel Collection was formed, and interest in drawings on the part of contemporary collectors has increased as well. However, when the Vogels began collecting in the early 1960s, their focus on drawing was an unusual one, suggesting another aspect of their prescience. Many drawings in the collection represent an artist’s initial idea, whereas others act as plans to be followed by a collaborator in the making of a work of art. This emphasis on drawing adds to the unique and intimate nature of the Vogel Collection, making their gifts an important educational tool for museums. Another educational focus of the Vogels since 1980 has been their ongoing donation of artist-related records to the Archives of American Art, Washington, DC.
On behalf of the couple, Dorothy Vogel says, “We hope this will be a truly national program, and that it will make the work of the many artists we admire familiar to a wider audience. We also hope our gifts will enable museums throughout the country to represent a significant range of contemporary art.”