Anne Goodyear: Reflections on the Passion and Purpose that Inspired Two Collectors

Described as legendary collectors, Dorothy and Herb Vogels’ generosity has enhanced collections across the country, including that of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, where the exhibition, “It’s What you Do with What You View”: Selections from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, is currently on display. On the occasion of a visit to Bowdoin by Dorothy Vogel, Anne Goodyear, co-director of the Museum of Art, reflects on a legacy of art-giving.

In 1997, as graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin, Frank and I first heard Dorothy and Herbert Vogel speak about their collection of modern and contemporary art during a public conversation with Annette Carlozzi, then the curator of American and contemporary at the Huntington Art Gallery (now the Blanton Museum of Art). The experience was truly transformative, as our subsequent careers, dedicated to the arts, and done in partnership with one another, suggest.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel

Herb and Dorothy Vogel

On Thursday, September 4, 2014, more than fifteen years later, during a visit to Bowdoin in conjunction with the installation “It’s What you Do with What You View: Selections from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art,” Dorothy Vogel will share reflections about the exceptional work she and her husband acquired over five decades to form the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection.

More than 300 works assembled by the Vogels have now come to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and with them the rich insights of a pair of innovative individuals who had the courage and commitment to invest in the most advanced art of their era.

The choices made by Herbert and Dorothy were not necessarily obvious in the early 1960s, but turned out to be the “right” ones in the eyes of history, suggesting the power of these individuals in their own right to become taste-makers.

Indeed, by the mid-1970s, art writer Kit Schwarz included the pair in A Semiographic Representation of Art During the Seventies (Part Two): Describe Yourself As A Person, a conceptual work consisting of interviews with leading artists, curators, and other elite members of the artwork.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art co-directors Frank Goodyear and Anne Goodyear.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art co-directors Frank Goodyear and Anne Goodyear.

The Vogels’ joint self-portrait, in the form of the interview transcribed by Schwartz, now on view at the museum, together with numerous other works they brought together, suggests their characteristic modesty and humor.

The lessons to be gleaned from the success of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel have special resonance in the context of a small liberal arts college. As the numerous artists they collected noticed, the Vogels looked hard. Courageously, they educated themselves and participated in conversations with their peers about new directions in art.

Their education began with making — examples of their painting are now on view at the museum. It was reinforced by formal study of the history of art by Herb at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and by deep involvement on the part of both spouses with the artists in their midst.

Perhaps most importantly, they acted.  “It’s what you do with what you view,” Herbert told artist Richard Tuttle. Not just watching, but taking part, not being boxed in by inherited wisdom, but, rather, building on the foundation of the radical lessons of Abstract Expressionism, the Vogels engaged themselves with minimal and conceptual art, with art and technology, with Fluxus, in short, with art that stimulated them intellectually and aesthetically.

Dorothy and Herb Vogel

Dorothy and Herb Vogel

With exceptional generosity and an inspiring commitment to the common good, the Vogels chose to share the work that inspired them freely with others, making gifts of their collection, first to the National Gallery of Art and, then, in coordination with the National Gallery with a wide range of other institutions —first through the “50 x 50” program, the subject of the documentary by Megumi Sasaki to be shown on Thursday, September 4, and, now, with a final series of gifts to other institutions, Bowdoin included.

The rich materials donated to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art including painting by both Dorothy and Herb, included works collected both at the outset and the conclusion of their careers as collectors, and those watching both documentaries made by Sasaki, Herb and Dorothy and Herb and Dorothy 50 x 50 (to be screened Thursday), will see numerous works now owned by Bowdoin on the silver screen.

Perhaps most importantly of all, we will have a chance to hear Dorothy’s own reflections about these works and others. And, even after her visit concludes, the artwork itself will remain to inform and inspire future generations. We welcome you to engage with it for yourself.

“It’s What you do with What You View”: Selections from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art remains on view until September 14.

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