Before he passed away, Herbert Vogel and wife Dorothy quietly amassed a staggering collection of minimalist art, purchased on his modest government salary and crammed for decades inside their tiny New York apartment. “Herb & Dorothy” director Megumi Sasaki was hugely influential in validating the Vogels in the first place, and now that their trove has found a home — many homes, in fact, since the couple decided to donate 50 pieces to museums in all 50 states — follow-up docu “Herb & Dorothy 50×50” puts the happy ending on their hoarding-done-right story. Modest theatrical launch should encourage homevid and institutional collections.
While hardly a rehash, Sasaki’s sequel resurrects many of the themes and questions from the 2008 pic, which not only inspired middle-class auds to consider art-buying (often thought to be a luxury of the rich and famous) but also forced them to examine their notions of what qualifies as art, since the Vogels’ taste favored inexpensive conceptual pieces by artists who later hit it big. Sasaki also widens her focus, offering insights into the state of contemporary art museums, nearly all of which are limited to the taste of their donors.
In that respect, the Vogels may prove to be as influential as Samuel H. Kress, who used his fortune to amass (and later share with the public) one of the great collections of post-Renaissance painting. Traveling from New York to Hawaii, and hitting a dozen or so stops along the way, the film demonstrates how thirsty museums are for such gifts and how the various institutions use these often-challenging works to foster art appreciation.
On the road, Herb grows increasingly quiet, both soaking up the curious attention his newfound celebrity generates and, possibly, silently judging the odd mix of admirers and sycophants who surround them (Herb initially opposed the National Gallery’s proposal to split the collection). When not traveling to their collection’s far-flung new homes, Dorothy keeps watch from her nearly-empty apartment via the “Fifty Works for Fifty States” site; her story is bittersweet, since Herb’s death finally curbed her impulse to acquire.
Much like a work of art, the film invites a range of reactions, though it’s far easier to process than the daubs, doodles and other weird works
that now hang all over the country.