Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vogel Collection at the MS Museum of Art

There is an amazing story on display at the MS Museum of Art right now.  I say that because the story of the Herb and Dorothy Vogel collection is just as grand as the collection itself.  This couple of moderate means (he was a postal worker and she a librarian) began collecting art after they were married in 1962, and slowly and methodically began to fill their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment with art.  They built up a collection of around 4,000 pieces over the years and recently donated the work to the National Gallery in Washington D.C.  In a documentary playing at the exhibition, Dorothy said that with the two of them being civil servants felt that they were merely "caretakers" of the work and donating it the National Gallery was their way of giving it back to the people of the United States.  The National Gallery was only able to take about 1000 pieces so a program was set up to distribute the work throughout the country.  It is called 50 Works for 50 States and the MS Museum of Art is the recipient of 50 pieces for their permanent collection.

The approach they took to collecting art is nothing short of remarkable.  In the documentary they were described as eccentric, compulsive, and obsessive.  The collection became a concept in and of itself.  Nothing was ever sold.  Their apartment was filled to the ceiling (with some work hanging from the ceiling).  They bought work because they believed in the artist as much as they appreciated the work itself, so many artists were represented thoroughly in the collection.  One person that stands out as being well represented in the selection given to the MS Museum of Art is the artist Richard Tuttle.  Here is where some people may have difficulty in appreciating the collection.  Tuttle was an early Minimalist artist of the '60s. His work is often very minimal.  In the documentary, Herb mentions that when they began collecting work that Pop art was the prominent New York style, but Minimalism was new, experimental, and vanguard.  In other words it was much more reasonably priced and therefore the collection has a large number of Minimalist pieces.  In an interview with Charlie Rose, the Vogels were asked what a particular Tuttle piece "signifies", and their response was "it doesn't have to signify anything, it's a visual thing".  If you do have difficulty appreciating Minimalist art, keep in mind what Becky Hendrick says in her book Getting It; that "there are only two requirements for appreciating art: we need to look at art objectively and without prejudice; and we need enough information about art's relationship to history and culture to support our non-judgemental explorations."

According to the book After Modern Art 1945-2000, by David Hopkins, the term Minimalism was rejected by many of the early practitioners.  Donald Judd, one of the primary artists of this movement is said to have felt that the term connoted a reductionist view, as though they were "attempting to reach an essential core."  He felt that one shouldn't focus on what was missing from the work when "works such as his were kept uncomplicated precisely in order to isolate specific and positive qualities."

The collection isn't all Minimalist, though.  There are some wonderful ink drawings by Mark Kostabi that have a more illustrational approach, and an expressionistic ink drawing by Michael Lash.  There are a couple of very busy, graphic, mostly abstract with some cartoonish elements graphite drawings by Joseph Nechvatal that contrast nicely with the Minimalist work.  In fact, a majority of the collection is drawings, but one of my favorite pieces is a Takashi Murakami object.  It is wild and beautiful, and represents a broadening of the collection away from drawing and away from the New York focus.

So, please go with an open mind and enjoy the story.