"The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States," which opens today at the Columbia Museum of Art, will fill a gap.
The 34 works on paper, 10 paintings and six sculptures of minimal and conceptual art will add nuance to the museum's permanent collection.
The Vogels donated the art to 50 institutions nationwide through a joint initiative with the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Columbia Museum of Art was the recipient representing South Carolina.
For those who frequent the art museum, the collection will offer something different to look at than, say, impressionist paintings.
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"It's a way to introduce art not familiar to here," said Karen Brosius, the museum's executive director.
The headline here is the art, but the story might be the Vogels and how they were able to build such a grand collection.
For 45 years, the New Yorkers used Dorothy's librarian salary for daily expenses and Herbert's pay as a postman to buy art from then-unknown artists.
The underlying theme: Art collection isn't only for the rich and elite.
"With very modest salaries, they created one of the most significant contemporary art collections," Brosius said. "The story has such resonance that anybody can collect art."
The Nickelodeon Theatre will screen a film about the Vogels, "Herb & Dorothy," at 6 p.m. Nov. 10.
Herbert, 85, and Dorothy, 73, were amateur artists themselves before realizing that collecting was their passion. They amassed a collection some estimate at more than 4,000 pieces.
They have given away 2,500, which Dr. Brad Collins, associate professor of art at USC, said captures the breadth of art making in the '60s and '70s.
"It's an important gift because it's a very large body of work for a concentrated period of time," he continued. "What's also interesting about it, it gives a broad spectrum of art from that period."
Collins, who will lecture about the art at the museum in January, said the couple went to 25 art openings per week.
"Most of the art they purchased was from the artists themselves, and that's the cheaper way to go," he said. "Some of the things they were given.
"They also did a smart thing by purchasing relatively unknown artists."
The Vogels also bought a lot of drawings, which are comparably inexpensive to paintings or sculptures. But the works on paper aren't any less intense. In fact, the stripped-down and concept-focused art is sometimes harder to access.
"Much of the art they collected is quite difficult," Collins said. "And these works most people have trouble with.
"It's comprehension that I'm looking for."
The Vogels, with primary assistance from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., determined the 50 institutions that would receive the art.
Sometimes decisions were based on an institution's personal connection, Mary Lee Corlett of the National Gallery said. In other cases, it was based on fit.
"For the Columbia Museum of Art, the feeling was that it would be a good fit for their contemporary collection," Corlett said.
"That was really the hope and the goal of the Vogels, to bring it to places that would round out a collection where it wouldn't be repetitive."
There are 28 artists represented in the museum's Vogel allotment, including Richard Tuttle. The five works on paper by Tuttle, an artist whose small works concentrated on scale and line, are considered important works of contemporary American art.
The Vogels followed the lead of Samuel H. Kress, who donated his collection of master paintings in the 1950s and '60s. The museum was also on that list.
"We were selected based on the quality of our collection and our programming," Brosius said of the Vogel gift. "It is a really great honor."