In August 2009, the Phoenix Art Museum received a major gift of 50 objects and groups of objects given to us through the program The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States. Since 1962, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel - respectively a reference librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and a postal worker in New York - amassed an art collection of over 4,000 objects. Passionate, engaged and knowledgeable, they collected on the leading edge of contemporary creation. These intimate works, often on paper, trace the development of art across four decades with a strong focus on minimalism and conceptual art. The Vogels have given over 1,000 works of art to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Another 2,500 works were donated throughout the nation through the Fifty Works for Fifty States project, which gave 50 works of art to 50 selected art institutions, one in each of the 50 states.
In all, the Phoenix Art Museum received 128 objects by 28 artists. This includes works by major conceptual artist such as Lawrence Weiner and Richard Tuttle; works by important women artists such as Lynda Benglis and works by seminal painters such as Robert Mangold. This adds significantly to the Museum's holdings of contemporary art.
The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States project was organized by the National Gallery of Art with essential support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Conversations with the Curator:
Sara Cochran, Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art
Dorothy and Herb collected on the leading edge of contemporary art with a strong focus on conceptual art and minimalism. How do you define these two movements?
Herb explained that they were both interested in minimal and conceptual art because of the way these works challenged the traditional and expected forms and history of art.
Minimalism, which emerged in the 1960s, is generally regarded as a reaction against the subjective and emotional forms of Abstract Expressionism. Rejecting metaphor and cult of the artist, it celebrated objects that honestly presented their materials by embracing repetitive forms, neutral surfaces and industrial techniques.
Conceptual art is concerned with the ideas and theories that lead to the making of a particular work of art. These ideas take priority over the look of the piece and its construction.
What drew the Vogels to this type of work?
In the early 1960s, when the Vogels began collecting, they were looking at the upcoming generation of artists. This work was of its time and spoke to these two engaged individuals. Both Dorothy and Herbert had studied abstract painting so they were interested in and open to works that spoke to them on formal and philosophical levels. They took the time to understand the works by looking carefully at each work on its own terms and through lots of conversation with the artists, many of whom became life-long friends.
There’s a quote in the gallery from artist Chuck Close that states “They (Vogels) liked the most unlikable work. The most difficult, the least decorative, the most rigorous.” Why are the works considered difficult?
The works are difficult because they are small scale and non-figurative. They demand a lot of the viewer to understand them. Much of the work is produced in series, so often you have to understand the way the artist makes art in order to understand the individual pieces themselves.
For example, if you spend time with the watercolors by Richard Tuttle, you realize he is repeating shapes and colors. By comparing the individual pieces, you can see that he is interested in how small variations total change his end result. This allows you to see the hand of the artist. Sometimes it is incredibly subtle. Sometimes it is just about how water interacts with and deforms the paper as it dries – a poetic gesture that becomes a memory of the artist’s process.
What should visitors do to better understand the works on view in the exhibition?
Be patient. Try to look at each work individually. Think about how different decisions would have lead to a totally different work of art. In contemporary art, you need to meet the artist half way. If you understand what the artist is doing and you don’t like it – that’s okay. That’s called taste. But if you don’t understand what the artist is trying to do – you are cheating yourself. It’s about a conversation and it’s up to you if you want to join in.
Dorothy and Herbert Vogel at The Clocktower with a drawing by Philip Pearlstein behind them, 1975. Photography Credit: Nathaniel Tileston. Courtesy Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C .
Richard Anuszkiewicz, Temple of Red with Orange, 1983. Acrylic on wood panel in wood frame with metal trim
© Richard Anuszkiewicz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum. Gifted by The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.