Herb and Dorothy 50×50: An Elderly Couples’ Struggles and Triumphs as They Distribute Their Art Collection


While living in a rent-controlled Manhattan one-bedroom from the 1960s onward, Herbert & Dorothy Vogel assembled one of this country’s most comprehensive collections of minimalist modern art, funding their purchases from Herbert’s wages as a postal clerk while living off Dorothy’s salary as a librarian. They donated most of their collection to the National Gallery of Art in 1992—relieving them of the burden of protecting it from their cats. Megumi Sasaki covered all this in her 2008 documentary Herb & Dorothy. Her follow-up is about the couple’s controversial decision to divide their collection, giving 50 pieces to a museum in each U.S. state. The result was at least 50 dramas, only a few of which Sasaki can cover in 85 minutes. The Las Vegas Art Museum permanently closed soon after it received the Vogel gift, a victim of the recession. Richard Tuttle, one of the artists with whom the Vogels formed a friendship, criticizes the move; another of “their” discoveries (or so the film implies), Charles Clough, appears grateful to have his work seen again, years after his star has faded. A melange of interviews and scenes of Dorothy pushing her wheelchaired husband around at openings (“Herbie” died in 2012 at age 89), the film is at its best when it examines the impact of the Vogels’ selections on audiences unaccustomed to confronting abstract art. Curators talk about combatting the “my kid could paint that” mentality, but Stephan Jost of the Honolulu Art Museum has the sunniest perspective. “As much as [audiences] reject it, they’re also telling you they can imagine themselves making it,” he says. It’s an absorbing document of an extraordinary act of generosity.