Bowdoin College receives major, ‘transformative’ art donation

Posted Jan. 13, 2014, at 12:53 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 13, 2014, at 4:46 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — More than 300 works of contemporary art kept by a New York couple have been donated to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Herbert and Dorothy Vogel of New York City spent decades amassing what Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the museum, said Monday is “one of the world’s great collections of minimal and post-minimal art,” all while Herbert worked as a postman and Dorothy worked as a reference librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Collins Goodyear and her husband, Frank H. Goodyear, co-directors of Bowdoin’s museum, are longtime friends of the Vogels.

The Vogels chose Bowdoin for their bequest because of a longstanding commitment to share the art, Collins Goodyear said, and because Bowdoin has “a framework” designed to accommodate public accessibility and interpretation of the collection.

In 1992, the couple donated much of their collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. According to the 2013 film “ Herbert and Dorothy 50 x 50,” the collection had grown to nearly 5,000 pieces.

“Their intention, as they began, was not to build ‘a collection’ but rather to find works that they wanted to live with,” according to the website for the film.

The Vogels bought a ceramic work by Picasso to celebrate their engagement, according to ArtInfo. The couple went on to collect more than 4,700 pieces, which they stored and displayed in their Upper East Side apartment.

In 2008, working with the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, they launched The Dorothy and Herbert Collection: Fifty Works to Fifty States. The couple distributed 50 works to one institution in each of the 50 states.

Herbert Vogel died in 2012, and Dorothy Vogel chose Bowdoin College to receive the remainder of the collection — works by nearly 70 artists such as Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi and Edda Renouf. The gift is among the most significant to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in its more than 200-year history.

The collection includes works on paper, photography by Richard Long, ceramics by Michael Lucero and sculpture by Merrill Wagner.

“Encompassing works dating from the mid-20th century to the early-21st century, the gift to Bowdoin will present the full history of the Vogels’ collecting — from Herb Vogel’s early acquisition of paintings by Giuseppe Napoli and Hank Virgona, to work acquired jointly by the pair during the past decade, such as drawings by Richard Tuttle and Lucio Pozzi,” the Bowdoin Daily Sun reported.

“This donation represents a true highlight in the giving of our collection,” Dorothy Vogel said in a statement. “I take pleasure knowing that artworks included here, by leading American artists, have the capacity to inspire many generations of audiences, from students to locals, to a broad range of international visitors.”

Many of the pieces are now on view at the museum.

An estimate of the donation’s monetary value was not immediately available, but Collins Goodyear said Monday, “The art historical and aesthetic value of the gift is extraordinary. The artists who are included in that particular collection … these are just a ‘Who’s Who’ of modern and contemporary art. We just feel very, very proud to be able to add this significant donation of outstanding contemporary art to our collection. It will have a transformative effect here at the college.”

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