In 1962, when Mr. Vogel and Dorothy Hoffman were married, they came to Washington on their honeymoon and spent several days visiting the National Gallery and other museums. When they returned to New York, they began to buy a few pieces by artists they met, slowly amassing their collection.
Unlike many collectors, the Vogels were not wealthy people. They lived and collected their entire lives on their salaries and their pensions. Mr. Vogel worked nights sorting mail at New York post offices, and his wife was a reference librarian in Brooklyn.
The Vogels never talked about how much they paid for a work of art and did not sell a single piece they owned until the National Gallery acquired much of their collection in 1991. By then, its value was estimated to be well into the millions.
“We could have easily become millionaires,” Mr. Vogel told the Associated Press in 1992. “We could have sold things and lived in Nice and still had some left over. But we weren’t concerned about that aspect.”
When they began collecting in the early 1960s, the Vogels — known to many in the art world simply as “Herb and Dorothy” — concentrated largely on conceptual art and minimalism. It was difficult, edgy work, often with straight lines and little ornamentation, that stood apart from the better-known abstract expressionist and pop art movements.
Their first purchase was “Crushed Car Piece” by John Chamberlain, who made sculptures from wrecked auto parts. It was not the sort of art that was in strong demand.
The Vogels visited studios and became close friends with many artists, including Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle and the husband-and-wife duo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They were often the first collectors to open their wallets to buy from unknown artists. Over a period of almost 50 years, the Vogels amassed more than 5,000 works of art, including drawings, paintings, sculptures and pieces that defied classification.
“Many millionaire collectors wouldn’t have the nerve to buy the kind of cutting-edge art that the Vogels embraced enthusiastically,” Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski wrote in 1994. The Vogels, Sozanski continued, created “one of the most remarkable American art collections formed in [the 20th] century, one that covers most of the important developments in contemporary art.”
Herb and Dorothy Vogel had three requirements in purchasing art: It had to be inexpensive; it had to be small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi; and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom apartment. Over time, the diminutive couple – neither of them much taller than 5 feet – became recognized in the art world.They haunted the galleries and studios of New York, attending as many as 25 art events a week. They studied art magazines and kept in close touch with dozens of artists.