Herb and Dorothy

Herb and Dorothy movie poster
MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Documentary
The story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, who over a lifetime amassed an amazing collection of art.
Starring: Herbert Vogel, Dorothy Vogel
Director: Megumi Sasaki
Running time: 1:29

Editorial Review

The story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel is too good to be true, which is why it has become an art world cliche. If you follow coverage of high art on programs such as "60 Minutes" or in newspapers and magazines, you've heard of the Vogels, the charming New York couple who started buying contemporary art in the 1960s and ended up amassing a priceless collection. Herb worked at the post office; Dorothy was a librarian. Now they're art-world superstars.

Or rather, they've been superstars for decades, which means a documentary devoted to them needs to do more than just retell their story. But Megumi Sasaki's "Herb and Dorothy" begins and ends where all the other stories have begun and ended.

You can't hate the film anymore than you can hate Herb and Dorothy. But this is lazy work.

The filmmaker confronted but didn't solve a fundamental problem: The Vogels are inarticulate about art. Told that "you don't have to be a Rockefeller to collect art," the viewer is curious to know how the Vogels did it. But the Vogels were intuitive collectors and don't have one word to say on why this or that piece appealed to them.

We learn that aspiring artists send them work unsolicited (Dorothy returns it) and that artists cut them special deals to get their work in the Vogel Collection. Near the end of the film, they visit the National Gallery of Art, to which they've donated their collection. And there is proof that the Vogels have arrived. About 30 years ago.

More interesting than the Vogels themselves is the incessant need to retell the Vogels' story, which has become a useful fable.

But this isn't about the Vogels. It's about a film about the Vogels, a film that should have started where others left off. As it is, "Herb and Dorothy" is more a part of the Vogels phenomenon than it is a serious analysis or reconsideration of an already familiar story.

-- Philip Kennicott (July 3, 2009)

Contains nothing objectionable. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.