The improbable but true story of the postal clerk and the librarian who quietly built one of the world’s major art collections solely on their two salaries.

The improbable but true story of the postal clerk and the librarian who quietly built one of the world’s major art collections solely on their two salaries and each other’s support, “Herb and Dorothy” is a warm profile of the Vogels and their 4,000-plus-piece holdings of minimalist and conceptual art. Fascination with the urge to acquire, coupled with the march of name artists who speak affectionately of the couple, ensures modest, upscale auds for fest play and selected situations.

“Like a hound digging for truffles” is how one artist remembers the Manhattan pair who began acquiring minimalist pieces in the early 1960s because they were in their closely guarded price range. While Herb freely admits he “doesn’t understand” much of what he collects, the two nevertheless exhibit a palpable, fiercely instinctual connection to art. Their three pre-requisites: It must be affordable, it must be transportable via subway or taxi, and it must fit into the modest apartment they share with turtles, fish and a cat.

Chuck Close always thought of them as the mascots of the art world, while Jean-Claude remembers telling Christo when Herb and Dorothy phoned for an appointment: “It’s the Vogels! We’re going to pay the rent!” James Siena pays close attention to their advice on the progress of his work, while Richard Tuttle rearranges drawings to suit their mood.

As journo-turned-helmer Megumi Sasaki picks up their story, the Vogels are on the verge of donating their vast holdings to Washington’s National Gallery of Art. Fittingly, one of the pieces stuffed into the five 40-foot moving vans is something created by conceptualist Lawrence Weiner just for them: “Many things placed here and there to form a place capable of sheltering many other things put here and there.”

Tech package is simple and unobtrusive, with fine use of graphics to illustrate the collection’s depth and breadth.

Herb and Dorothy

Production

A Fine Line Media production, in association with Muse Film and Television. Produced by Megumi Sasaki. Executive producers, Karl Katz, Catherine Price. Directed by Megumi Sasaki.

Crew

Camera (color), Rafael dela Uz; editor, Bernardine Colish; music, David Majzlin; sound, various; associate producer, Takeshi Yamasaki. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, June 17, 2008. (In SilverDocs Film Festival, Silver Spring, Md. — competing.) Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Herbert Vogel, Dorothy Vogel, Lucio Pozzi, John Paoletti, Jack Cowart, Pat Steir, Richard Tuttle, Will Barnet, Lynda Benglis, Chuck Close, James Siena, Charles Richie, Jean-Claude, Christo.
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