An artist remembers Herbie Vogel
Lucio Pozzi, who lived and worked in New York for many decades, describes the collector and his wife
By Lucio Pozzi. Web only
Published online: 23 August 2012
For a few years I lived under a giant skylight in a windowless, basement level, 19-century police truck repair garage in Mulberry Street. There, the city was far away. I slept on a convertible couch or, during my daughter's visiting nights, she on the couch and I on a futon on the floor.
On summer afternoons, Herbie would ring my bell unannounced. He wore checkered shorts, an old pair of sandals and a light, non-descript shirt. Despite having undergone skin cancer surgery a few times on his face, he never wore a hat. In his left hand he would carry a translucent plastic bag full of water in which swam a few rare fish picked up at the store a block away from me. In his right he would hold a large paper shopping bag containing a couple of wrapped, rectangular works of art. He knew he had to wait for me to run up the ramp to open the door.
The familiarity of our greetings were as precious as the years of our friendship and collaboration. No hugs, shouts or laughter; just a glass of water and the tangible pleasure of sitting around the work table, plain talk about family and then discussion of the art of other artists and of myself. When theoretical considerations would arise, Herbie was very quick to situate them in simple words in the history of contemporary discourse. Nothing escaped his passionate attention.
It was hopeless to ask to see the works in the bag or whom they might be by. Only once did he show me a half-dozen drawings by Joseph Beuys that he was particularly proud of having secured.
On my walls he could see the many ventures I was engaged in: perhaps on the left, a large oil painting containing human figures; in the centre, some plywood, geometric and polychrome acrylic cutouts; to the right, a photograph mounted on tinted canvas. On a nearby table there might be a landscape watercolour and a dotted gouache texture on paper.
His quick eye wandered over the space while chatting, like a fox exploring the night. He would then have me open the flat files of recent works on paper. When a group attracted his attention he took it all. Occasionally he also chose a small piece on canvas or on wood.
Sometimes I disagreed over the relevance or quality of what he chose. His respect for the artist caused him to listen with grace, but we often ended up by his taking what he wanted and my adding what I preferred. Now that the works he had selected are shown to me by the museums that acquired them, I am stunned by how his eye and mind saw beyond my perception of my own work. I would say he was always right. As evening approached, he would depart, wearing the faint smile of a cat that had just enjoyed a good meal of fish. And I was left energised.
The art would have to fit the shopping bag, or if too large I would deliver it to his home. On those occasions, Dorothy and he either offered me a cake from Entenmann's and tea or, especially after walking had become difficult for Herbie, I would be invited to the diner across the street. He was very particular as to food: never salad, no wine, yes to chopped chicken liver and ice cream.
Often Dorothy also came to the studio, but on those occasions the visit would be arranged ahead of time. We would dine in my neighbourhood. Dorothy shared with her husband a fastidious concern for the correct handling of works of art. She is also extremely thorough in cataloguing the collection. While looking at art, her comments would be drier than his; always very pragmatic, to the point, no flattery, few words being better than many. The discussions preceding their final agreement on what was being seen enhanced the conversations.
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