Unlike many collectors, the Vogels were not wealthy people. They lived and collected their entire lives on their salaries and their pensions. Mr. Vogel worked nights sorting mail at New York post offices, and his wife was a reference librarian in Brooklyn.
They bargained directly with the artists, sometimes buying on installment, paying as little as $10 a month. Once, they received a collage from Christo in exchange for cat-sitting.
The Vogels never talked about how much they paid for a work of art and did not sell a single piece they owned until the National Gallery acquired much of their collection in 1991. Estimates of the collection's value range well into the millions, but National Gallery officials and others who have seen it decline to give a specific number.
"We could have easily become millionaires," Mr. Vogel told the Associated Press in 1992. "We could have sold things and lived in Nice and still had some left over. But we weren't concerned about that aspect."
When they began collecting in the early 1960s, the Vogels - known to many in the art world simply as "Herb and Dorothy" - concentrated largely on conceptual art and minimalism. It was difficult, edgy work, often with straight lines and little ornamentation, that stood apart from the better-known abstract expressionist and pop art movements.
The Vogels visited studios and became close friends with many artists, including Sol LeWitt, Richard Tuttle, and the husband-and-wife duo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They were often the first collectors to open their wallets to buy from unknown artists. Over almost 50 years, the Vogels amassed more than 5,000 works of art, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, and pieces that defied classification.
"Many millionaire collectors wouldn't have the nerve to buy the kind of cutting-edge art that the Vogels embraced enthusiastically," Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski wrote in 1994. The Vogels, Sozanski wrote, created "one of the most remarkable American art collections formed in the 20th century."
Herb and Dorothy Vogel had three requirements in purchasing art: It had to be inexpensive; it had to be small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi; and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom apartment. Over time, the couple became fixtures in the New York art world. They haunted the city's galleries and studios, attending as many as 25 art events a week. They studied art magazines and kept in close touch with dozens of artists.
Their small apartment was quickly overrun with art, which hung on the walls and was stacked on the floor and under the bed. They got rid of their sofa and had only enough room to sleep, eat, and care for their cats and the exotic turtles and fish that Mr. Vogel kept in aquariums.
The Vogels were featured on 60 Minutes and in a 2008 documentary film by Megumi Sasaki called Herb and Dorothy. Their names are carved in the wall at the entrance to the National Gallery's West Building alongside those of other major benefactors.
Herbert Vogel was born Aug. 16, 1922, in New York City. He grew up mostly in Harlem and never completed high school.
Besides his wife, survivors include a sister.
- Washington Post