You Don't Have to be a Rockefeller to Collect Art
July 31, 2009 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Herb & Dorothy Vogel is a documentary about a postal clerk and a librarian who amassed over 4000 works of conceptual and minimalist art on their modest income. Their only criteria: it had to be affordable, and it had to fit in their apartment.
posted by Extopalopaketle (33 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a wonderful story. Love it. This is what the contemporary art world should be: modestly-priced pieces collected by people who love them, not 7-figure auction prices paid by investment consortiums.

This, though, from thePost article:
The film mentions that not everyone in the New York art world embraced the tiny couple with an open heart. Some gallery owners were peeved when the Vogels made "studio sales," or bought directly from artists rather than through dealers, who would get a cut of the money.
... this is everything that sucks about the contemporary art world. Fuck those gallery owners. Fuck them right in the ass with a 7-foot tiger shark floating in formaldehyde.
posted by dersins at 12:48 PM on July 31, 2009 [13 favorites]


Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Vogels’ collection is what they did with it. Although by this point their art is worth millions of dollars, they’ve refused to sell a single piece, opting instead for that National Gallery donation.

“We both had worked for the government, and we wanted to give back to the people of the United States,” Dorothy Vogel says.

They gave back so much, as it turns out, that their collection filled five huge moving vans and stimulated the National Gallery to collect more in their area.

“Finally, they lived only for art,” says Jeanne-Claude, the artist Christo’s collaborator. “They gave up their lives for it. They are pure people; they have given everything they had.”


Wow. Now that's a way to live your life.
posted by maudlin at 12:51 PM on July 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


metafilter: snark floating in formaldehyde.
posted by the aloha at 12:57 PM on July 31, 2009


Those gallery owners are going to be quite shocked when they discover that many artist sell directly to the public using something called the Internet.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2009


Beautiful story. Buying more artwork features prominently in my imaginary budget where I have more expendable income.
posted by empyrean at 1:12 PM on July 31, 2009


I *love* these two, and I really hope this movie makes it to Saskatoon.
posted by jrochest at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2009


Those gallery owners are going to be quite shocked when they discover that many artist sell directly to the public using something called the Internet.

I bet Etsy really gets them steamed up.
posted by empyrean at 1:14 PM on July 31, 2009


vogel 50 works for 50 states is the site of the travelling exhibit.
posted by the aloha at 1:16 PM on July 31, 2009


I love this. God bless both of them.
posted by contessa at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2009


This couple was featured on 60 Minutes a decade ago (I think - maybe longer than that) - and I found them charming and inspirational then. I'm looking forward to a full documentary!

Some gallery owners like to play the snot-card when confronted with the idea of Etsy. I had a friend who was in a gallery last year; she mentioned she had seen something similar on Etsy, only smaller, the gallery owner made a very big point about the difference between "real artists" and "dillitante crafters". The implication was that he and his ilk were the gatekeepers, saving the serious art lover from riff-raff and low-quality crap.

As an artist and an art collector, I love studio visits (from both perspectives) - direct contact with the people who own and display your work is usually a fabulous experience.. I've learned a lot from the people who have visited my studio, and become a better artist for it. My own studio visits have deepened my connection with the art and increased my appreciation of it.
posted by julen at 1:48 PM on July 31, 2009


... this is everything that sucks about the contemporary art world. Fuck those gallery owners. Fuck them right in the ass with a 7-foot tiger shark floating in formaldehyde.

The relationship between a gallery dealer and an artist isn't the same as, say, the relationship of eBay or Etsy to an artist. A dealer actively works to promote an artist, to make sure that the right people see the work and that the artist's work ends up in influential collections. Dealers sometimes spend large sums of money keeping artists alive and working until their careers take off--careers that the dealer has carefully nurtured.

Sure, some dealers are frauds or exploitative or what have you, but in principle there's nothing wrong with a dealer expecting to have the exclusive right (at least, within a certain region) to handle an artist's work.
posted by yoink at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


"their collection filled five huge moving vans" vs "it had to fit in their [one bedroom] apartment"?
posted by smackfu at 2:31 PM on July 31, 2009


Fuck those gallery owners. Fuck them right in the ass with a 7-foot tiger shark floating in formaldehyde.

I'm sure your heart is in the right place but employing violent rape imagery to express disaproval of some art dealers is needlessly vulgar and juvenile, and the homophobic subtext does nothing to enhance your point there.
posted by longsleeves at 2:48 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rape imagery + damien hirst though?
posted by smackfu at 2:49 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure your heart is in the right place but employing violent rape imagery to express disaproval of some art dealers is needlessly vulgar and juvenile, and the homophobic subtext does nothing to enhance your point there.

Nobody understands my art. Its transgressive qualities are is just too much for your timid nature. Shorten your sleeves and open your mind, man.
posted by dersins at 3:06 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


I love these people. They decide that one of their incomes will be to live on and the other will be for art? How insanely cool! I don't even care to look at the art they collected. Just the idea is enough for me.

How well do you think this idea would go over in a personal ad?
posted by orme at 3:16 PM on July 31, 2009


From my last decade or so of working and playing around the mainstream gallery system, I think that yoink has it right. Furthermore, galleries sometimes refer to themselves as retailers. They get a cut because they do all the legwork of promotion and distribution. This is not unlike the manufacturer-retailer (ok, cut out the wholesaler in this situation) relationship you get with regular goods. In both cases, exclusivity within a region also occurs for retailers. Retailers get pissed off when manufacturers or their own distributors upstream undercut them.

Usually, if an artist sold something directly to a client without their gallery's blessing, word would get around pretty fast. The artist might get that reputation and no gallery would be too eager to represent them for fear of wasting resources for naught. There are artists that promo and retail themselves, but it's not unlike manufacturers that do the same.

Julen also makes a good point. A lot of us are brought up to believe that everything/anything can be art. That may be true, but but the industry view is that only some art is good art or valuable art. This is where the gatekeeper function of the galleries come in. The stuff you see on etsy or ebay is unvetted craft. Not Art. Not industry sanctioned. I'm increasingly seeing that attitude as analogous to engineering-based certifications for "stuff": there are some nuts and bolts that meet industry standard and are good, and then there is the other stuff. Just because you can't quantify the qualification, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 3:46 PM on July 31, 2009


Metafilter: dilettante crafters.
posted by jquinby at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2009


I'm increasingly seeing that attitude as analogous to engineering-based certifications for "stuff": there are some nuts and bolts that meet industry standard and are good, and then there is the other stuff. Just because you can't quantify the qualification, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

This is the rankest form of art-insider bullshit. If you can't quantify a standard then it's not a standard-- it's an opinion. It may be an informed opinion, but it is still nothing more than an opinion.
posted by dersins at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


"their collection filled five huge moving vans" vs "it had to fit in their [one bedroom] apartment"?

Presumably a piece of art being moved around the country takes up more room than it does hanging on a wall.
posted by jedicus at 4:17 PM on July 31, 2009


their collection filled five huge moving vans" vs "it had to fit in their [one bedroom] apartment"?

I think the distinction is between the individual pieces (i.e., they had to be able to hang/install each piece in their apartment) and the total collection (add up a whole lot of small pieces+wrapping and voila: five huge moving vans). Presumably they kept a lot of the collection in storage somewhere at any given time.
posted by yoink at 4:28 PM on July 31, 2009



"their collection filled five huge moving vans" vs "it had to fit in their [one bedroom] apartment"?

Presumably a piece of art being moved around the country takes up more room than it does hanging on a wall.


Yes. Crating art for transportation creates a lot of volume. It nearly gave me a heart attack when I saw the piles of paintings and drawings just stacked in their apartment.

it is still nothing more than an opinion

Yes, but it's that opinion that qualifies the art. This doesn't mean that it's the end of everyone's dream of being an artist. This High Art snobbery exists in its own circle. There are many other circles of art scenes that have their own standards, histories, and ideas of what is valuable. Not all of us can drive Ferraris but drive cherish, and collect Toyotas.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 4:36 PM on July 31, 2009


and the homophobic subtext does nothing to enhance your point there

1. Homosexuals aren't the only ones who enjoy a good ass-fucking
2. Many who enjoy a good ass-fucking might find a 7-foot object uncomfortable
3. To be fair, certain people may prefer getting ass-fucked by a 7-foot pickled tiger shark

Conclusion: The original post is actually sodomoformaldemegasharkophiliphobic.
posted by scrowdid at 4:52 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


“Finally, they lived only for art,” says Jeanne-Claude, the artist Christo’s collaborator. “They gave up their lives for it. They are pure people; they have given everything they had.”

maudlin: Wow. Now that's a way to live your life.


A lot of people would disagree.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:32 PM on July 31, 2009


The stuff you see on etsy or ebay is unvetted craft. Not Art. Not industry sanctioned.

"Oooh, that's a stunning [artistic creation]; it's profound, imaginative and beautiful... but is it industry sanctioned? If not, it's merely unvetted craft, not Art." With an "A."

I could believe this is the art of satire. If so, nicely played.

If not, it's so up itself that it could become part of MetaFilter lore, industry sanctioned or otherwise.
posted by ambient2 at 5:52 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


> A lot of people would disagree.

Those people ought not try it, then.
posted by ardgedee at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, because living for art is a bad thing.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:34 PM on July 31, 2009


A dealer actively works to promote an artist, to make sure that the right people see the work and that the artist's work ends up in influential collections.

Yeah, like club promoters actively work to promote bands? Phooey.
posted by queensissy at 6:45 PM on July 31, 2009


I could believe this is the art of satire. If so, nicely played.

Sort of. I should have been clearer that I have a tolerate/hate relationship with the way high art industry operates, so yeah, the capital-A Art is the satire bit. On the other hand it's still the case whether one likes it or not that some sort of mystical industry standard, based on other peoples' informed opinions (thanks dersins) will determine the value and place of a piece of art.

But to bookend this whole derail, going back to dersin's initial comment:

"This is what the contemporary art world should be: modestly-priced pieces collected by people who love them"

I contend that this is what contemporary art still is. There are scores of galleries that cater to new young artists where one can pick up works by young artists at very reasonable prices. i believe this is partly how the Vogels amassed their collection. They bought stuff other people didn't because it was too new or untested.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 7:01 PM on July 31, 2009


Most art is pretty affordable.

You aren't going to see a headline that says "an excellent piece of art was sold today by a competant artist to an unassuming collector for a reasonable price".
posted by idiopath at 10:44 PM on July 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


A couple years ago my wife was admiring a large piece by an artist in a local gallrey window. I took a mental note of who the artist was and later for a major milestone birthday I contacted the artist directly. I told her my budget and asked what he had in that range (I didn't mind getting a much smaller piece then what my wife had originally seen) and managed to procure a fantastic large piece that was 1/4 the price charged at a gallery.
posted by PenDevil at 1:26 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Yeah, like club promoters actively work to promote bands? Phooey.

No, that's not necessarily how it works. There are different kinds of galleries, with different kinds of relationships to the artists and the patrons.

There are co-ops, where artists share in the costs and operations. Sweat and/or financial equity is exchanged for guaranteed wall/floor space for group shows and (depending on the co-op) a solo show in rotation.

Then there are artist-owned galleries. The artist runs their own shop and occasionally exhibits other artists they likes.

Then there are the galleries that show the bright lights of the modern art world. It's the most prominent segment, although probably least representative of the current art market as a whole, but since this is the world the Vogels bought in, let's run with it. The galleries have exclusive rosters; a limited number of artists are represented, and the roster is small through judicious pruning. The gallery owner is responsible for all the expenses of leasing street-level galleries on some of the most expensive turf in NYC, handling art which can be fantastically expensive to store and ship properly. Artist representatives will be performing promotional and sales work outside the gallery, going from office to home to office to get product bought by institutions and individuals. Galleries have to make enough money off the artists to be profitable enough to churn that investment. A gallery owner may patronize a promising but not-yet-successful artist -- not only with money but with art supplies, room and board -- as a short-term loss with the expectation of eventual profit. Think of it as venture capital, not a rich man's indulgence. The gallery wants collateral on that investment, in the form of product.

So this last type of gallery is less like how club promoters work on behalf of bands; it's more like how the bands' record labels work. And, like record labels, some galleries are less ethical than others. Some galleries favor/promote/treat some of their artists better than others. Some outright rip off their artists or customers. And like bands, some artists are going to be more responsible with their job and their money than others are. The healthy gallery/record label has to balance the marketable appeal of irresponsible bad-boy acts that sell really well but are nightmares to maintain because they're chronically broke from drugs and irresponsible with their productions.

Of course the gallery is going to feel ripped off when you buy directly from their artist. You probably wouldn't have heard of that artist, seen their work in magazines and museums, nevermind wanted to buy something from them, without the gallery's effort, time and money. Galleries with these sorts of investments in their artists will want sales exclusivity in exchange (in terms of control of all sales made in a given territory, eg. the northeastern U.S.), and that extends to sales made directly from the artist. They invested their money and they want a return on it. This is a business, even if the business is art.
posted by ardgedee at 7:13 AM on August 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


A couple years ago my wife was admiring a large piece by an artist in a local gallrey window. I took a mental note of who the artist was and later for a major milestone birthday I contacted the artist directly. I told her my budget and asked what he had in that range (I didn't mind getting a much smaller piece then what my wife had originally seen) and managed to procure a fantastic large piece that was 1/4 the price charged at a gallery.

Yeah, this is the kind of story that gives gallery owners white hair. The gallery owner was the one who made it possible for your wife to know about this artist. That meant sunk costs on rental of the gallery space, advertising for the show, transportation of the art work (horribly expensive if done properly--often requiring a wooden crate to be purpose built for each work--and foam or polystyrene fillers to be hand shaped and glued into the crate for protection), cases of wine for the opening, all kinds of labor costs involving calling private collectors, institutional curators etc. etc. etc. And then the artist basically says "well, screw you, I'm happy to profit from all your work, but all I really care about is my percentage." If word gets about that an artist does this regularly, they'll pretty soon find themselves without representation. And then they also find that nobody's calling and saying "so, I saw your work in the window of this gallery...".
posted by yoink at 11:23 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


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