Columbia museum receives almost 600 pieces of contemporary art

The Columbia Museum of Art will announce Monday a gift of almost 600 works of art from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, prominent collectors of contemporary art.

The Vogels built a collection of more than 4,500 pieces, and the museum of art is now the second largest repository of the Vogel collection. It trails only the 1,100 pieces held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

This is the second gift the museum has received from the Vogels. In 2008, the Vogels, through a joint initiative with the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, donated 50 pieces of art to 50 institutions nationwide. The Columbia Museum of Art was the recipient representing South Carolina.

The 34 works on paper, 10 paintings and six sculptures of minimal and conceptual art added nuance to the museum’s permanent collection. The new gift features work by 27 artists, but a significant number of the 594 pieces were created by Daryl Trivieri and Lucio Pozzi.

They did not want to split up the work they had collected,” Will South, the museum’s chief curator, said.

Pozzi, a painter born in Italy who has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the Venice Biennale, has a higher public profile than Trivieri, known for his drawing with ink and airbrush painting.

“Now is he famous? No,” South said of Trivieri. “Was he a fabulous draftsman? Yes. This just gives us a lot more material to work with.”

The Vogels were able to amass a rich minimalist and conceptual collection while living modestly in a one-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment. For 45 years, the New Yorkers used Dorothy’s librarian salary for daily expenses and Herbert’s pay as a postman to buy art from then-unknown artists. When asked how the museum got in line to receive the gift, South pointed to Karen Brosius, the museum’s executive director.

“When they decided to give away the remainder of their collection, they remembered Karen,” he said.

With art gifts come restrictions and stipulations. The first Vogel gift had to be mounted for public view within five years. The museum put “The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States” exhibition up in less than two years. Since the Vogels — Herbert is 89, Dorothy 77 — don’t travel long distances, Brosius sent the couple photos of the show — and the museum. Brosius kept in contact with them, visiting their apartment on a New York trip.

When the first 50 states gift was announced, Brosius recalled asking Dorothy if the museum could have any of the works an institution declined.

“She burst out laughing and said, ‘It wouldn’t make 50,’ ” Brosius said.

A connection was made.

“I’m truly honored they have selected us for this wonderful gift,” Brosius said. “It’s expanding and enriching our collection in ways I’m very excited about.

“It gives us an opportunity to be a part of the national contemporary scene.”

Critics have suggested the Vogel collection captures the breadth of art making in the ’60s and ’70s. Brosius said some of the works the museum received will be on view in the fall. The museum will allow the work to travel to other institutions, providing a valuable service, South said.

“They will go down in history as two of the most prominent collectors of contemporary art in the 20th century,” he said.