Finding a Way Into the Secret Lives of Artists

By Kiki Murai

This is a series we like to call UNCAPPED. A look at Herb and Dorothy behind the film lens. What did director Megumi do to capture the scenes that she did for her first film HERB & DOROTHY? And what can we expect in her new film, HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, due out tomorrow?

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James Siena was the last (and youngest) artist to enter the Vogel Collection.  During the filming of her first film HERB & DOROTHY, Megumi was able to get a front-row seat as Herb and Dorothy Vogel got to know the artist better.  But of course, it wasn’t easy.

“The Vogels were really warm and inviting when I first asked if I could make a documentary about them,” Megumi told me recently. “But at the beginning, it felt like their door was open, but just a crack. They let me film, but only some parts of their lives. The one thing they never let me film was their visits to artist’s studios.”

How then, were they able to film the scene with James Siena?

H&D with James Siena

Megumi remembers it well.

Herb and Dorothy first discovered James Siena, in 2005.

Herb was very excited, Megumi recalls, nearly giddy in sharing with her that they’d found an incredible artist. “He’s so great,” Herb would say with a glimmer in his eye and a bounce in his voice.

He couldn’t contain his excitement.

Siena says (in the film), “In February 2005, Herb and Dorothy made their first visit they acquired three pieces. On their second visit, they acquired, I think, nine pieces.”

Megumi was not allowed into these first and second visits.

When Megumi asked Herb, “Who’s this artist? Who is it?”, Herb answered with a mischievous “I can’t tell you.” Quickly adding, “But he’s SO GREAT. I’m so happy!”

Megumi laughs about it now.  ”Dorothy would always tell Herb, ‘Stop talking about it if you can’t say his name!’”

The Vogels’ relationships with artists were completely private, as it was the most sacred part of their lives – no discussion.  (Which makes HERB & DOROTHY (first film) and HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 (second film) a near-miracle.)

Exactly two and a half years after Megumi began filming HERB & DOROTHY, interweaving dozens of personal visits to the Vogel apartment without a camera or crew in tow, to scoop a dead fish out of the fish tank or to change a lightbulb in the Vogel bathroom – which by the way, still has installed works of Lawrence Weiner and Sol LeWitt as they are drawn on the walls and can’t be taken down – Megumi was finally allowed access into a private studio visit with an artist.

That artist was James Siena.  (You can see the full scene from Megumi’s first film here.)

“What distinguished them from other collectors on one level was that they really wanted to see…everything,” Siena says in his interview. ”As I would show them one thing they’d say, let me see something like that. Let me see another one like that. They had to create a sort of mini survey of my development.”

As  other artists in the Vogel Collection can attest, the Vogels had to see it all.  Yet they didn’t share what they saw with others. They just made the purchase quietly, and kept adding to their collection.

Until one day, they decided to share everything.

(This is what you’ll see in our new film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, opening tomorrow.)

Thanks to Megumi’s persistence and dedication, we now have two films, HERB & DOROTHY and HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, unquestionably the most private, personal documentation ever made about the Vogels.

Even still.

When talk about price comes up in the scene above, Herb remembers the camera and says, “I don’t like the public knowing what we pay. This is personal and private.”

We’ll take what we can get.

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In what is likely the closest you will get to the Vogels, see what Megumi was able to capture in her second film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, premiering tomorrow in New York City. (At IFC Center.)

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