Spring is here! This is a time of year that I associate with many happy things, most particularly getting outdoors and exploring what our great city has to offer. Monthly Art Crawls on James Street North are at the top of my list.
One thing that I’ve struggled with at Art Crawls past is purchasing pieces of art to take home with me. I’m a person whose background is mostly in musical performance, with no formal training in visual arts. One of my biggest regrets was never taking an Art History course during my schooling. This has in the past made me feel somewhat self-conscious about what constitutes good art. I’ve historically been drawn to abstract paintings, sculptures and mixed media that incorporate vibrant colours, geometric shapes and textures, but I find it difficult to articulate why I’m attracted to these elements, and if these pieces could be considered “good art”.
I recently came across a post on my Facebook news feed about a working class couple from New York who had amassed a priceless contemporary art collection over several decades. In reading the article, I discovered that the couple had been the subject of a 2008 documentary entitled Herb & Dorothy, which detailed Herb and Dorothy Vogel’s infamy in the New York art world as unassuming collectors of modest means. Herb worked as a Postal Clerk, Dorothy as a Librarian, and both made a pact that Dorothy’s salary would go towards the couple’s living expenses, while Herb’s would be entirely devoted to acquiring pieces of art.
The couple had no formal training in art collecting, but they had simple rules: the piece had to be affordable, transportable via taxi or subway, and small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
The Vogels gravitated toward Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960’s at a time when both were unpopular, and Pop Art was on the rise. They purchased pieces from unknown artists according to what they liked, rather than collect works based on who or what was popular. They eventually donated their entire collection to the National Gallery in Washington in 1992, which was where they spent their honeymoon decades earlier.
Artist Richard Tuttle was an interview subject in the film, and perfectly encapsulated what Herb and Dorothy’s process was for selecting works of art: “Something goes from the eye to the soul without going through the brain.”
Filmmaker Megumi Sasaki, who spent a great deal of time with the couple in preparing the documentary, summed up best what I enjoyed about Herb and Dorothy: “One of the greatest lessons I learned from Herb and Dorothy is that you don’t have to explain, you don’t have to theorize art to like it. The important thing is to look.”
After viewing this documentary in full, I honestly feel more motivated than ever to go out and acquire pieces without feeling the need to explain why I love them. In the words of artist Lucio Pozzi, “Art is not something you have to explain, but feel.”
With that I say support our local artists, buy what you love, and happy hunting!
Elizabeth S. Abraham is a Family and Criminal Lawyer at Wasserman Law Firm in downtown Hamilton. She currently sits on the Board of Directors at Hamilton Arts Council and Wesley Urban Ministries.