Art Collecting Hoi Polloi

Sounds like an urban legend: a postal worker and a librarian who live in a shoebox apartment in Manhattan, spending all their extra scratch on modern art. In the instance of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, their story is not only true, but documentary-worthy. Megumi Sasaki’s film Herb & Dorothy, just released on DVD, proves that you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to collect art. Or, in fact, to give it away: the Vogels have pledged to donate their entire collection — mostly small-scale works by modern greats like Richard Tuttle, Sol LeWitt, and Chuck Close — to public institutions in all 50 states. Video trailer after the jump.

The Vogels began collecting Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960s before it had garnered much fuss, devoting Herb’s entire paycheck to acquiring new pieces and subsisting on Dorothy’s salary alone. After 30 years of meticulous buying, the pair amassed a collection of over 2,000 pieces, mostly small-scale sculpture and works on paper. By 1992, the National Gallery of Art in DC agreed to store and display the Vogel collection, now worth millions of dollars. The pair still lives modestly, in the same one-bedroom apartment they share with 19 turtles and a cat. Browse the works in their collection, now on view as part of the Fifty Works for Fifty States project.

Though this heartwarming tale seems impossible in the present era (the art world goes topsy-turvy when a gallerist becomes a gallery director, collectors dictating museum shows, a wave of Bright Young Things with inflated selling points, actors emulating Warhol), affordable art is everywhere. It may not appreciate to $1 million by 2040, but as long as you like it hanging on your wall, it’s all gravy.