August Happenings at RISD

Good news for anybody interested in art in Rhode Island: for the first time in four years the RISD Museum of Art will be open again during the month of August.  And better yet, the museum’s new monthly summer program Design the Night has been received with enthusiasm, attracting up to 900 visitors a night.  On the third Thursday of each month, coinciding with Gallery Night, the museum has opened its’ doors wide, offering participatory programming around subjects like Tools and Text, and on August 16th, Trends.

As part of the upcoming Design the Night: Trends, the museum will screen ‘Herb & Dorothy’, a documentary about the infamous collector couple accompanying the current exhibition ‘The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Rhode Island’.  The Vogels, a postal worker and a reference librarian from New York City, amassed a significant and unusual collection of contemporary art over the course of 50 years.  Following their intuition, gravitating towards younger artists and affordable works, the couple collected close to 5000 pieces or art.  Reflecting their personal interest and preferences for contemporary art, the collection includes early works by well-known artists Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, and Lynda Benglis, among others.

The Vogels decided that the National Gallery in Washington should hold their collection, worth millions of dollars at this point.  Driven by a desire to share their collection, their passion for art, and the goal of reaching a wide audience, the bequest included the stipulation to distribute fifty pieces of art to each of the fifty states, in what the Vogels considered their gift to the nation.  The RISD Museum was selected to house the fifty works for the State of Rhode Island.  The selection of the art works was based on connections to each state as well as the goal to supplement the existing collections at fifty museums across the country.

The small, intimate show speaks to the important role of drawing as a tool to generate, and document, ideas.  Most of the fifty pieces on view are drawings and prints, with few sculptures and paintings.  A drawing is often the first step that set things in motion for a painting, a sculpture or an installation and with that it can be raw and unfinished but at the same time fresh and original, not honed or fine-tuned yet, representing an initial impulse, an idea.  And as such the collection represents artistic ideas and trends that go beyond the presence of the actual artworks displayed.  Over time the Vogels build strong connections with the artists whose work they collected, maintaining close relationships and an active exchange of ideas.

Besides the individual pieces of art, and the fact that they complement the museum’s existing collection, the important story here is that of the collectors and the fact that seemingly “ordinary” people, with regular jobs (and the salaries that go along with those jobs) were able to build one of the most remarkable collections of contemporary art in the US, reinforcing the idea that anybody can enjoy and collect art.

Sadly, two days after the opening of the exhibition of the Vogel’s collection at RISD, Herbert Vogel passed away at the age of 89, survived by his wife Dorothy.


‘The Herb and Dorothy Vogel Collection: Fifty works for Rhode Island’
On view at the RISD Museum through December 2, 2012


Design the Night: Trends, August 16th, 5-9, free admission
Movie: ‘Herb & Dorothy’, 6:30 pm, Chace Auditorium