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Art Kids

By FilmNerd July 31, 2009

Herb and Dorothy Vogel seem normal enough.  In his late eighties, he is a retired postal worker, a tiny lifelong New Yorker who lives with his slightly taller, quieter wife, a retired city librarian. But at the opening of Megumi Sasaki's new documentary Herb and Dorothy, these two mingle with the creme de la creme of the New York art crowd.  Dwarfed by the likes of Sol LeWitt and Robert Mangold, they critique the pieces on display to the rapt attention of done-up women in cocktail dresses and New York Times reporters.

Why do arty sophisticates listen to Herb and Dorothy Vogel? Because over the last forty-five years, the pair have amassed the nation's premiere collection of 20th century American art.

[caption id="attachment_10738" align="aligncenter" width="456" caption="Herb and Dorothy Vogel"]Herb and Dorothy Vogel[/caption]

Herb and Dorothy don't have a children; instead, they have their collection. Like so many other working-class Americans, they have poured all their love, money and time into giving their offspring a better life than they have had.  The 1965 acquisition of their first Sol LeWitt, which Dorothy says "really set the tone for the collection," was like getting admitted to a prestigious private school: A Dalton or an Andover.

They were willing to work odd jobs to support their collection, once spending a summer cat-sitting for Christo and Jeanne-Claude in exchange for a collage of 1970's Valley Curtain.

When the time came to let their child go, Herb and Dorothy were as careful and particular as any parents, and as unwilling to sell.  Instead they chose to donate their 4,782 works to the National Gallery: A permanent home that wouldn't split up the family.  When the National Gallery proved unable to absorb all the works the pair had packed into their tiny apartment, they launched 50 Works for 50 States, demonstrating their deep interest in public access to art.

Sasaki's film tells all these and hundreds more stories.  She works her way through the Vogels' relationship to each other, to their art, and to the city around them. Full of priceless archival footage and a laundry list of modern American artists, Herb and Dorothy is one of the art-educational experiences of the year.

Catch it this weekend at Northwest Film Forum:  Plays today through Sunday at 7 & 9, with 5pm screenings on Saturday and Sunday.  SAM curator Michael Darling will introduce the opening screening.
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