June 8, 2009 / 1:43 AM / 9 years ago

Unlikely art collectors delight in "Herb & Dorothy"

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - No doubt “humble” and “contemporary art scene” rarely inhabit the same sentence, but debuting filmmaker Megumi Sasaki’s wonderful portrait of Herb and Dorothy Vogel summons these words.

The couple, who back in the 1960s entered the scene by patronizing then-unknown artists, came from humble backgrounds and worked humble jobs (Herb sorted mail for the Postal Service, and Dorothy was a librarian). They shared a passion for modern art, and using Dorothy’s earnings to live on, the couple spent Herb’s salary to build their collection.

But the Vogels were much more than mere buyers. They befriended, visited and coddled struggling artists who often were living in the city’s worst neighborhoods.

A big audience-award winner at a number of festivals, with potential to attract a sizable art-house crowd, “Herb & Dorothy” shows how to appreciate, if not understand, modern art. The Arthouse Films release also might be riding a new wave of films about old people; “Gotta Dance,” “Up” and the upcoming “Cloud 9” are just a few that come to mind.

“Herb & Dorothy” works as a primer on the art of collecting. The benignly obsessed Vogels looked carefully at every piece and responded instinctively. They had fun, reveled in being surprised, and bargained humanely, often paying in installments. Most hilariously, the Vogels shoehorned four decades’ worth of purchases — canvases, sculptures, mixed media — into their one-bedroom rental. Getting by with old furniture and appliances, the Vogels lived simply, even as the value of their collection grew to many millions.

They’re likable because they’re so sincere and caring, not just about the art but toward the artists. They never sold a single piece and finally donated their huge collection (the 2,000-plus works filled multiple moving vans) to Washington’s National Gallery of Art.

Sasaki gets everything right in the documentary, and was further blessed with access to many artists and curators: Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold and Lynda Benglis are but a few of the couple’s fans who show up and “Vogelize.”

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