A Life Devoted to Art: The Story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel

Alex LaFosta


Developed as a follow-up to Megumi Sasaki’s award-winning documentary Herb & Dorothy (2008), this quaint film encapsulates an ordinary couple's extraordinary life and incredible contribution to the America’s modern art culture, as the pair’s life as collectors comes to an end.


Herbert and Dorothy Vogel were married in 1962. Herb was a postal worker and Dorothy was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. The couple managed to live of off Dorothy’s salary, while using Herb’s salary to build a huge collection of over 4,000 works of art. But then Dorothy Vogel couldn’t help herself from asking, “What’s gonna happen to all this art?” In 1992, the Vogels decided to transfer the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art, and in 2008 they launched The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States. This program donated 2,500 works of fine art to 50 museums and galleries across 50 states.


The film travels from state to state visiting many of the museums that have benefited from the pair’s generous donations, while chronicling the close friendships they’ve created with artists and directors from coast to coast. From the the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffallo, New York, to the Honolulu Museum of Art, the film travels to several of the donation sights from the program.


It even manages to tell fun short side stories, like that of Herb and Dorothy coming to the rescue of the Las Vegas Art Museum by helping donate their works to the Donna Beam Fine Arts Gallery at UNLV upon the museum’s unexpected closing.


But the film has more to it than the cute art-loving couple. It takes the time to ask many questions about art in American society, such as “How accessible is art?” Sasaki does a brilliant job of raising these questions and conveying to they audience the trying times many museums and galleries go through finding support and contributors.



This brings an interesting turn to the film where Sasaki’s plunges into the world of failing art galleries and museums that live and die by the generosity of people like the Vogels. In the documentary, Sasaki interviews the former director of the Las Vegas Art Museum who states that “A lot of private collections don’t get donated… and if they are, they get donated to New York or Los Angeles or where the collector went to school.” For art galleries and museums, the range of its collection is largely dependent on the range of people who are interested, and the film does a great job of displaying the peaks and valleys of that correlation.


Herb and Dorthy 50 X 50 takes a glimpse into the past, present, and final chapter of the titular characters’ lives as art collectors. This documentary is many things, but at its core, it’s a love story. It is a story of two people passionately in love… with art. Herb and Dorothy never had children, but the affection and adoration the two have for art is evident. In the film, Dorothy compares the donation to sending your kids off to college.


The film will tug at the heartstrings of audiences, even those who are not fanatics of fine art. The film displays the significance of the Vogels’ impact in the art world, while successfully telling a beautiful tale of two art lovers from Brooklyn who spent their lives doing what made them happy.


Author Bio:

Alex LaFosta is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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