Herbert and Dorothy in the late 1960s. Photographer unknown



Interview Excerpt: The Importance of Knowing the Artists

The Vogels focused on European and American artists working in New York City, where studio visits could be an essential part of their collecting experience. Artists living elsewhere who are represented in the collection generally visited New York (or were briefly based there), met the Vogels and saw their collection, and subsequently brought work to show them.

In a 1994 interview with Gallery curator Ruth Fine, the Vogels elaborated on their relationships with artists and their works:

Ruth Fine: When you would go to a studio to acquire something, if you felt strongly that you wanted something and an artist felt strongly that it would be better for you to have something else, what kind of dialogue would take place?

Dorothy Vogel: Generally, we only go to studios if we know the artist’s work to begin with. We’d see it at another studio or at a gallery. We never go just because someone says “Go down to the studio, and see. . . .” It doesn’t work that way. We’d know the work, and we’d like it, and then we’d talk to the artist and they’d show us a range. Sometimes, it takes a long time of narrowing it down and narrowing it down and making choices and working with the artist. “Why do you like this one better?” “Why do you like that one?” “This is more characteristic.” “Oh, I love those colors.” “Oh, the proportions are so great.” You know, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s not just going to the studio, saying “Oh, that’s what we want, and that’s it.” It can take a long, long time; and this comes with the knowledge of the artist’s work to begin with and then working with the artist and hearing what he or she has to say. Sometimes they say, “Well, this is my favorite,” and sometimes you don’t necessarily like what their favorite is. Their reason for a favorite might have nothing to do with the work. It might have to do with what they were thinking of when they were doing it or something like that.

Other things happen when you know the artists, too. For example, we got our first Joseph Kosuth, Art as Idea: Normal, from Dan Graham. When we met Joseph he said we didn’t have the complete piece because we didn’t have the tear sheet, where the definition came from. So we got that from him. Later on we bought Art as Idea: Nothing from him. He had a whole show of “nothing,” which were the different definitions from the different dictionaries.

Herby and I sometimes would have different opinions. It turned out that I was better at selecting Sol LeWitts.

Herbert Vogel: Yes . . . still is.

Dorothy Vogel: And Herby was better at selecting, say, Lynda Benglis. He picked up on the flamboyant artists, and I leaned toward the more minimal.

For the full interview, see From Minimal to Conceptual Art: Works from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994), 61–62.