Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50: The Collectors Behind a Gift to SAM

Herb & Dorothy 50 x 50

Runs Fri., Oct. 4–Thurs., Oct. 10 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 87 minutes.

Dorothy and Herbert Vogel were the subjects of a prior doc by Megumi Sasaki, which played NWFF in 2009, the year after Seattle Art Museum was announced a beneficiary of their 50 Works for 50 States bequest. Those donated works went on view at SAM this past March, and the exhibit runs through October 27. If you saw the first film, this one doesn’t add much. If you’ve been to the museum or are planning a visit, it’s well worth seeing.

In brief, the Vogels were humble young collectors in the early ’60s whose buying criteria were essentially small, affordable, and minimalist. (They had no kids and enjoyed a rent-controlled Manhattan home.) Three decades later, they promised the National Gallery their 5,000 acquisitions, all kept in their one-bedroom apartment (!) —more than the Washington, D.C., institution could possibly store or exhibit. Thus the 50 by 50 program, which would send 2,500 works to museums in all the states. (We got works by Stephen Antonakos, Sol LeWitt, Terry Winters, Cheryl Laemmle, Robert Mangold, and others.)

In declining health (particularly Herb), the Vogels clearly trust Sasaki, who trails them to museum openings and receptions in New Jersey, Hawaii, Nevada, and even North Dakota. It’s a celebratory tour where they’re treated like rock stars, and this modest, middle-class couple clearly relishes the attention. (Herb plays the curmudgeon, but lets slip a few proud smiles.) During the recession, one museum director explains, they can’t afford to make acquisitions, so the Vogels’ gift is all the more striking. Artists they supported are interviewed (some resist the collection’s dispersal), and this also makes for a repetitive tribute of praise for and demurral by the Vogels. You might not share their taste or like everything now hanging at SAM, but it’s impossible not to admire their generosity.

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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