Vogel, Dorothy (1935—)

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Vogel, Dorothy (1935—)

American art collector . Born Dorothy Hoffman on May 14, 1935, in Elmira, New York; studied at University of Buffalo, 1953–55; Syracuse University, B.A., 1957; University of Denver, M.A. in library studies, 1958; married Herbert Vogel (a postal worker), in 1962.

Dorothy Vogel was born in 1935 and raised in Elmira, New York, the daughter of a stationery store owner. She began her studies at the University of Buffalo in 1953, graduating from Syracuse University with a B.A. in English literature and library studies in 1957. After completing an M.A. at the University of Denver the following year, she moved to New York City to work at the Brooklyn Public Library.

In 1962, she married postal clerk Herb Vogel, a New York City native who had cultivated his love for art at New York University, where he took classes in painting and art history, and at the Cedar Tavern, an artists' hangout in Greenwich Village. Herb introduced Dorothy to the world of art, encouraging her to take a drawing class and going with her to museums and galleries. "We learned about art by studying everything that was going on," she said. "We read catalogs. We went to lectures and all the shows and, significantly, the studios of artists." Although they were by no means wealthy, the young enthusiasts began making shy appearances, and occasional purchases, at New York galleries. In 1965 they made their first important art purchase, buying one of the earliest works that Sol LeWitt—a founding member of the minimal school—ever sold. Using Dorothy's salary as a librarian for their modest living expenses, the couple reserved Herb's earnings for art. A life of art collecting had begun.

Rather than buying fashionable Pop art or the bold Abstract Expressionism of artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the Vogels concentrated on minimalism and conceptualism, eventually amassing a collection of more than 2,000 paintings, drawings, and sculptures, all housed in their one-bedroom apartment in New York. Their home was famous for being full of pets and art, with little room for furniture. "A joke went round that I kept art in the oven," said Vogel, who relied on her librarian's training to keep track of all the pieces stored in crates and closets.

Never members of high society, museum boards, or patrons' circles, the Vogels bought pieces as they could afford them and came to be highly respected by artists for not viewing art as a commodity. Sol LeWitt once characterized them as "idealistic and supportive" and "a breath of fresh air" in an art world increasingly compromised by greed and pretension. They collected a large number of works by LeWitt and Richard Tuttle; more than 200 artists are represented in their collection.

By the 1980s the Vogels were known and respected in the art world, and their collection was much in demand for exhibitions. Quiet and unassuming amid the wealthy and fashionable of the art world—now eager for their opinions—the couple continued to spend their Saturdays visiting galleries by subway, sometimes seeing as many as 25 shows in one day. In 1992 Dorothy and Herb Vogel bequeathed their collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.—a museum they first visited 30 years earlier on their honeymoon—which they chose because it has never sold a painting.


Ash, Lee, ed. Biographical Directory of Librarians. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1970.

Gardner, Paul. "An extraordinary gift of art from ordinary people," in Smithsonian. October 1992.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York