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"The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Rhode Island" opens at the RISD Museum of Art
Stewart Hitch, Big Leg, 1981. The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. © Stewart Hitch. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design celebrates the generosity and vision of contemporary art collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel in a new exhibition, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Rhode Island. The show opens to the public Friday, July 20.

“We’re honored to have been selected as the Rhode Island home for this remarkable collection,” says Museum Director John W. Smith. “The Vogels are legendary collectors whose passionate support of cuttingedge contemporary art and artists resonates throughout this show. Their generous gift of 50 works of art strengthens the RISD Museum’s collection and allows us to celebrate the Vogels’ forward-thinking vision.”

The Vogels, a postal clerk and a librarian of modest means, built one of the world’s finest contemporary art collections in their small Manhattan apartment, using Herb’s income to acquire more than 4,000 works over a span of 50 years. As part of their Fifty Works for Fifty States project, they generously gave the RISD Museum a gift of 50 works, including paintings and sculptures by Cheryl Laemmle, Wendy Lehman, Don Hazlitt, Alan Shields, and Charles Clough; Joel Shapiro’s exceptional Model for Two Houses is the first work by this renowned sculptor to enter the Museum’s collection. The Vogel gift also encompasses works on paper by Robert Barry, Lynda Benglis, William Bollinger, Joseph Nechvatal, Nam June Paik, and Edda Renouf.

The Vogels’ intention, as they began, was not to build “a collection,” but rather to find works that they wanted to live with. Called “thoroughly modest Medicis” (Telegraph, UK), the couple sought out and encouraged relatively unknown artists who often later received international acclaim, including Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, and Christo. While the Vogels are often celebrated as collectors of Minimal and Conceptual art, the group of works they amassed had a more expansive reach, with art rooted in Abstract Expressionism (Alain Kirili and Clough), innovative Post-Minimalist approaches (Benglis and Shapiro), and diverse figurative directions (Laemmle and Lucio Pozzi). By the 1970s, the Vogels’ collection was widely exhibited and recognized by the international art press, and the couple was likewise acknowledged for their early, prescient attention to these artists.

When their collection outgrew their one-bedroom apartment, the Vogels could have sold their works—worth millions of dollars—but instead they looked to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where about 1,100 objects from their collection were initially gifted. “We both had worked for the government, and we wanted to give back to the people of the United States,” Dorothy Vogel says in the documentary Herb & Dorothy (2008).

The sheer size of the collection—far too large for any one institution—led the Vogels and the National Gallery, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, to also give works of art to one institution in each U.S. state. This has made Fifty Works for Fifty States one of the largest and the most significant philanthropic projects in American art history.

“When the Fifty Works for Fifty States initiative was announced, we very much wanted to be a part of it, and we were thrilled when we learned we had been entrusted with this remarkable gift,” says Jan Howard, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

The exhibition is on view through Sunday, December 2.

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