They began by studying to be artists themselves, but very soon realized that what they were able to create was not quite as good as what some of those around them were doing. Early on they began collecting. Since they were not wealthy people, they understood that they couldn't afford the work of those artists who were in their heyday: the abstract expressionists, the pop artists. Instead they looked to those artists who were just starting out, those artists whose work was not yet attracting attention, those artists who were working in new idioms and were not always understood. Not only did they buy their work, they took an interest in what they were doing. They befriended them.
They looked to the minimalists: artists who worked with simple shapes and forms in limited color. They looked to the conceptual artists, who theorized in almost Platonic fashion that the idea behind the work was the important thing, not the work itself. They looked to those artists who were interested in creating art for specific environments. From the work of these yet undiscovered talents, Herb and Dorothy built a collection in their tiny apartment that ran into thousands of art works, a collection which would eventually prove even too large for the National Gallery of Art, and lead to the Fifty Works For Fifty States project. Under the supervision of the National Gallery, works from the Vogel Collection will be shipped to various museums in each of the fifty states and a website was created.
Not only does Sasaki's prize-winning film celebrate this unassuming couple, it takes a long look at the works of art themselves as Herb, Dorothy, and the artists themselves try to explain why a short piece of rope with frayed edges seemingly tacked to a wall is a significant piece of art. In effect they try to answer the question of how a completely white painting can be a work of art. Somewhere Dorothy Vogel is quoted as saying that a work doesn't have to mean anything. It's art.