He was the son of a Russian garment worker who attended high school in Harlem. He never graduated. She was the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish stationary merchant from Elmira. She held a masters degree from the University of Denver.
During the 1950s, Herb Vogel took painting classes and drank in taverns frequented by artists. Dorothy Hoffman returned to New York and took a job with the Brooklyn Public Library. They met at a New York City reunion for a popular Poconos vacation resort. Two years later they married in January 1962.
The couple honeymooned in Washington, D.C. where they viewed the impressive collection at the National Gallery of Art. It inspired them to amass a collection of their own.
Herb sorted mail for the United States Postal Service and Dorothy was a librarian. They were hardly wealthy individuals. Despite meager resources, the Vogels amassed one of the most important collections of late 20th Century art.
They lived off Dorothy’s income and used Herb’s for collecting. Their focus was conceptual and minimalist art. New York was their shopping ground at a time when its art scene was incredibly vibrant. They bargained directly with artists. They paid in barter, cash and installments. A Christo collage was acquired in exchange for cat-sitting his pet.
The Vogels acquired nearly 5000 works that they stored in a small, rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment. They were collectors in the purest sense of the word. The couple never sold their art even though it could have made them a fortune. It was never appraised and they were always reluctant to discuss its monetary value.
When it came time to consider posterity the couple remained true to their roots. They were government workers and they presented the entire collection to the National Gallery of Art. It was actually too large for the NGA to assimilate. Pieces of the Vogel collection have found their way to all fifty states.
On July 22, 2012, Herbert Vogel died in a New York City nursing home. He was 89.