Herbert and Dorothy Vogel at the University of Michigan in...

Herbert and Dorothy Vogel at the University of Michigan in 1978. Credit: Handout

You probably haven't heard of him--few people have--but a remarkable New Yorker has at last been erased from the art scene.

Herbert Vogel, a diminutive postal worker who, with his wife Dorothy, amassed one of the most remarkable art collections of the 20th century, died Sunday at the age of 89. But not before he made his mark.

In their heyday, the Vogels were nonpareil. They lived on her salary as a Brooklyn reference librarian and spent his paycheck on art, later using their pensions as well. They bought only what they liked and could carry home on the subway or in a taxi and store in their one-bedroom apartment, which was soon crammed with their collection.

Eventually they amassed some 5,000 pieces, most of which they later donated to the National Gallery in Washington. They bought cutting edge stuff, by the way, not just what was fashionable. And they paid low prices by buying, in many cases, direct from the artist rather than through a gallery. After awhile they were famous, and artists regarded it as a mark of prestige to get into their collection, which included the likes of Joseph Beuys, Chuck Close, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Brice Marden and Edward Ruscha. Much celebrated in the art world, they were the subject of an award-winning documentary.

With their cats and cramped apartment, the Vogels were irresistible, not least to the artists who sold them stuff at cut rates. In this age of oligarchy and credentialism, they seem to prove that passion, taste and tenacity can triumph over wealth and pretense.

In that sense Herb Vogel's life didn't just imitate art, it was art.

Pictured above: Herbert and Dorothy Vogel at the University of Michigan in 1978.

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