Movie Review: Herb & Dorothy

I am really excited this term. Not because it’s almost spring; not because I have less work, or because I’ve finally started to get used to being in New York… No, I’m really excited because this term I have an honest to goodness elective! I’m taking a seminar on art collecting in the U.S. and, to be frank, I’m stoked!

Being no less an overachiever than any other conservation graduate student, I put even my procrastination to work, relaxing the other night while watching a documentary about unlikely art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel (Herb & Dorothy). A postal clerk and a librarian, the couple amassed thousands of pieces of mostly Minimalist and Conceptual art over the course of their lives — in part, Dorothy explains, because they couldn’t afford Pop art or Abstract Impressionism. Their collection includes a working piece from Chuck Close’s Keith that they literally picked off the floor of his workshop, and a collage of Christo and Jean-Claude’s Running Fence that they received in return for cat-sitting for the artists. By the time they both retired, their New York apartment was so filled with works of art that, when they donated the collection to the National Gallery of Art in DC, it took a truck to transport all the objects.

I have to admit, I enjoyed the documentary, but it left me somewhat unsatisfied. Herb & Dorothy could be a compelling look into what drives people to collect art. Herb and Dorothy themselves don’t seem to be quite sure why they do it — and, unfortunately, the film doesn’t really go far towards explaining the compulsion either. While the couple does seem to be strongly drawn to the ideas and the aesthetic, the film fails to examine where this fascination comes from. In that, it misses perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story.

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About Saira

Saira is a newly fledged book conservator currently based in New York.
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