Meet the Vogels. Herb’s a retired postal clerk. Dorothy’s a retired librarian. They live in a rent-controlled, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, have no outside income, and have amassed one of the most valuable and esteemed collections of conceptual art in the world.

That’s the subject of this fascinating, touching documentary showing tonight at Space Gallery ( Part of Space’s SCOPE visual arts film series, “Herb & Dorothy” is a portrait of two people whose love of art is marked by a total, if enigmatic, commitment.

Soon after they met, the Vogels, who are self-described enthusiastic amateurs, took some art classes, studied drawing and painting, and started hanging out with and around the unknown artists of the 1960s art scene in Manhattan. And they started buying art. Scrimping 50 or even 100 hard-earned dollars together at a time, they bought pieces they liked, pieces that spoke to them.

Eventually, they dedicated Herb’s entire salary to their art collection, living modestly on Dorothy’s, and that collection gradually filled every wall space, every spare corner of their tiny apartment.

And those artists — Christo, Julian Schnabel, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold and others — are some of the most influential abstract and experimental artists of the 20th century.

Filmed as the Vogels are deciding which thousand or so of their beloved artworks to donate to the National Gallery in 2007 (they say they’d never consider selling any of them), “Herb & Dorothy” is a moving portrait of the now-frail couple and their lifelong dedication to their mutual passion, even while remaining respectfully circumspect about what ultimately drove them to follow such a singular life’s path. Condescended to by some (Close calls them “the mascots of the art world”), Herb and Dorothy remain disarmingly normal and matter-of-fact about subjects like their lack of children, their undeniable, enduring love for each other, even their reasons for choosing why they were drawn to such avant garde art.

Herb and Dorothy don’t talk much about themselves. They pick art that speaks to them, they live the life they need to, and now, as they reach their 70s (he gnomish and hunched with his cane, she owlish and tiny in her huge glasses), they’ve decided to give it all away.

“Herb & Dorothy” is an art story, a love story and a story of art lovers. You’ll love it. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelancer who lives in Portland.


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