Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Thank god they were greedy!

Art collector Herb Vogel died this week, aged 89.

Herb, a postal worker, and his wife Dorothy, a librarian, over decades amassed a giant collection of modern and contemporary American art, much of which was gifted later in their lives to the National Gallery and distributed to art museums throughout the United States. Living off one salary in a one-bedroom apartment, they had three rules for purchasing art: It had to be inexpensive; it had to be small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi; and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom apartment."

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

It sounds daft, but Vogels are personal heroes. In the documentary 'Herb & Dorothy', (and shown in the trailor above) one friend exclaims "What can I say? They were greedy. They were greedy! Thank God they were greedy!". I can empathise with this greed. This acquisitive urge. This desire, when you make a connection with a work, to take it home and live with it. The way that as the things you bring home begin to knit together, begin to create something new through accumulation, that you want to see what will happen if you add here, extend here, go deeper there.

I've been drafting a post lately about why it is I collect art (after a pause earlier this year, last week I found the path again and bought two pieces by artists I truly admire). Perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder, but I've often felt that buying art is seen as the basest way of relating to it. But to me, it's a commitment. It's a commitment to my belief in that work, in that artist, in that dealer, and - as grandiose as this sounds (especially when you look at my supposed yearly 'budget', which always happily overran) - a commitment to the wider context.

Peter Tomory, the second director of the Auckland City Art Gallery and the man I wrote my thesis on, believed that an art gallery's job (or at least that gallery's job, at that moment in time) was less to directly support the contemporary artist (although goodness knows they did a lot of that) and more to educate an audience that then would support artists themselves - through infrastructure like dealer galleries. Likewise, when later in his career he established the art history department at La Trobe University, Tomory's view was that the programme was there less to turn out curators than to create an enthusiastic and informed audience for the visual arts. There was a time that I thought I'd grow up and be a curator. But now I wonder whether being a fan - a fan who puts their money where their mouth is - isn't just as valid a contribution.

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