Dorothy and Herbert Vogel are not how you would imagine the “typical” art collectors. The famed New York City couple collected contemporary art for years, keeping it everywhere and anywhere within their beloved one-bedroom Upper East Side rent-controlled apartment. The pair developed a world-class collection on the means of a postal worker and a librarian that grew so large that it was transferred to the National Gallery, and later, to museums in each of the 50 states. The collection is currently one of the most important in the United States. We checked out the Toronto’s Reel Artist Film Festival on Wednesday night at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, where the opening night film included a special excerpted version of Herb and Dorothy 50×50, the follow-up to the award-winning documentary Herb and Dorothy. Throughout the evening, we chatted with Dorothy Vogel herself, who was in town for the occasion (sadly, Herb passed away last July), Megumi Sasaki, the filmmaker of both docs, and Ann Webb, Founder of the Reel Artists Film Festival (now in it’s 10th anniversary year!) and Executive Director of the Canadian Art Foundation. Here is what we learned:
Art is Attainable
Countless young professionals have the notion that art is not quite attainable, somewhat stuffy and is something reserved for later in life. This couldn’t be further form the truth. As Webb points out, art institutions throughout the world are shedding their stuffy stigma and reaching out to the younger demographic through a variety of initiatives. In Toronto, this can be seen at social events like First Thursdays at the AGO, and beloved YP charity events like Powerball at the Power Plant Gallery and Massive at the AGO. A recent phenomenon, Art Battle events have made art intriguing and incredibly affordable throughout the country. Yet, people are still apprehensive.
“Contemporary art is still intimidating in general public. There is this misconception that they can’t afford it, so they don’t educate themselves on it,” says Sasaki. “Art is not limited to people with money and means – it is accessible to every one of us if we open our hearts and minds.” A fixture on the Toronto art scene for years, Webb, who has frequented galleries for 25 years, suggests attending as many galleries, art fairs and art auctions (where quality pieces can be snatched up for a lower price) as possible. She calls the art world not a snotty place, but an open space, and reminds us that quality, thought-provoking and affordable art is now out there, with galleries for a variety of demographics and price points.
You Don’t Have to be an Expert to Discuss Art
In our conversations with fellow YPs, many are intimidated to check out art shows and exhibit openings because they fear they can’t discuss the art in an intellectual or meaningful manner. Upon viewing the documentary, the audience realizes that art collecting is not as daunting as one would think; nor do you have to be an art expert to talk about it or appreciate it. Dorothy points to the fact that art is widely taught and embraced in more universities and other post-secondary institutions more so now than when she was a student, but that there are other ways to learn.
For her, she learned about art from her husband, Herb, and wanted to share this interest; “lucky for me, he wasn’t into sports,” she laughs. Her accumulation of knowledge came from attending galleries and museums, but also by developing relationships with artists. It is something that takes time, however, and Webb assures us that you can’t expect to get it right away. “Much like reading a book and wanting to discuss it with friends, you need to spend the time with the work,” she says. In terms of wanting to discuss it intellectually, she tells us not to but that pressure on ourselves. “There are so many ways to enter artwork and it doesn’t need to be something spoken about mechanically. First, decide whether you like or do not like the piece, then ask yourself what it is you do or do not like, keeping in mind things like colour, texture and even background and nationality of the artist,” she says. “It is more important to look at it and feel it than to technically break it down.”
She tells us that the best pieces for you are those you come back to and want to question what it is about the art that has that drawn you back. She suggests going into the galleries and striking up a conversation with the dealers. “If you are sincere, serious and want to learn, most dealers will want to share their knowledge,” she says.
You Don’t Have to Wait for the “Perfect Space”
Many young professionals may refrain from purchasing certain pieces of art because they don’t know where they would put it, as they have not settled into their “real” homes. The Vogels would disagree, with their tiny apartment busting at the seams with thousands of pieces of work for years. “I loved my building,” said Dorothy during a Q&A post-screening. “I wouldn’t have moved but I wouldn’t have minded a larger unit in that building.” The Vogels, then, collected art like one would collect stamps, with a focus on the work as opposed to the walls in which it was (or wasn’t) to hang.
Keep an Open Mind
You can’t approach art with a closed mind. The main piece of advice offered by Dorothy is to be open to new thoughts, ideas and styles of art. “You’re missing out if you shut yourself off,” she tells us. “Follow your own instincts, not preconceived notions, and simply be open to new things – not just with art but ideas and people as well.” If the Vogels hadn’t been so open and embracive to the art world, they wouldn’t have such a story to tell or art to share. And neither would Sasaki.
In viewing the excerpted version of the doc (the full version will premiere later this year), the audience is made quite aware that the film was not just about collecting art, but the Vogels’ story – their love and passion for art, life, each other and artists. This is exactly the story Sasaki wanted to tell. “It isn’t about money, jobs, or pretention,” she says. “It is about real people with a real passion, living their own fairy tale in the art world.”
The Reel Artist Film Festival presents the best documentaries on visual art and artists and continues throughout the weekend. Check out the schedule here.
Photo credit: Emma Mcintyre