Director Megumi Sasaki follows up her 2008 film Herb and Dorothy with Herb and Dorothy 50x50, which details the art collecting couple's project to give 50 works of art to an institution in each of the 50 states in America. 50x50 is an enlightening follow-up to 2013's introduction to Herb and Dorothy Vogel, who began collecting on a modest budget and amassed a historic collection of minimalist and conceptual art. Herb was a postman and Dorothy was a librarian in Brooklyn, and they lived off of her salary in order to collect art that slowly began to outgrow the space of their humble apartment. The sequel goes deeper into the pieces in their collection and how the 50x50 project has helped and revitalized the institutions who have received gifts from Herb and Dorothy. It also shows the end of their collecting in the wake of Herb's unfortunate death in July 2012.
The film debuted on September 13 in New York and is screening in cities around the US through the end of the year. Read our interview with director Megumi Sasaki below.
This is really the completion of telling their story.
Why did you decide to make a follow up to your first film, Herb and Dorothy, from 2008?
Two months before the first film was finished, they announced the 50x50 project and that all the recipient museums were supposed to have an exhibition within five years of receiving their gift. The Indianapolis Art Museum was the first to have their exhibition, so Dorothy and I went to see it. I was really moved by it, and it made me want to learn more about their collection and art.
How did you deal with or win over artists like Richard Tuttle who were skeptical about the 50x50 project and didn’t really want it to happen? Why did you decide to include their opposition in the film?
Well, I think Richard is still very sensitive and emotional about it, but he was ultimately very kind. Although he didn’t like the idea, he was very supportive of both the gift project and my film. He even gave me some input about the idea for this new film.
Excellent, do you have any plans to make a third one?
Not at all. Dorothy and I have both really had enough. This is really the completion of telling their story.
I really like how the film begins with a scene where children are learning about Herb and Dorothy's collection and their legacy. Do you see your film and their legacy, even with Herb’s passing, affecting a new generation of young people and young collectors?
Yes, thank you, that’s what I hope for.
What did you learn about Herb and Dorothy through filming the documentary that you didn’t know the first time around?
In 2002, I was assigned to produce an educational television program for NHK Japanese public television, and that program was supposed to feature the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. We went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. where they had an exhibition at the time. All of the work exhibited there was part of Herb and Dorothy’s collection. Somebody told me who they were, and how they collected art, and I was really moved by it. That was the first time I ever heard about Herb and Dorothy, so I really wanted to tell their story.
I did not know their collection contained such a wide spectrum; it was not just minimal conceptual art.
During the second film, I learned about the depth and girth of the collection. I only knew it from the list, but I got to visually see the work, which was a big difference. It helped me get a better sense of their universe and what they were seeing through their art and collection. I did not know their collection contained such a wide spectrum; it was not just minimal conceptual art.
It was almost like a journey for me, to find the answer. I don’t think you ever find absolute answers, but it made me question what art is. Towards the end of the journey, it made me feel like I really wanted to start painting and drawing. That was my dream, I wanted to be an artist when I was a kid, until like seventh or eighth grade, but I had a really bad art teacher, and I just totally gave up and started hating anything to do with art. I was a blocked artist for a long, long time, but this journey unblocked me; now I really feel like painting and drawing again.
When I was learning during this journey, more questions than answers came out. Even though these artworks are very difficult to grasp, even for adults, the kids don’t care; they have all kinds of imagination and are so excited. We all get older, we start receiving all kinds of information, and then we are blocked. We cannot simply enjoy it like we used to.
This film made me think more about the fame—what does fame mean to the artist? Especially for Mark Kostabi or Charles Claude and Martin Johnson. I wanted to include lesser known artists in the film. Mark used to be really famous, but not as much now, so I thought about the idea of fame while making this, too.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers?
Filmmaking is problem solving, because I think we have many more problems than things that go smoothly. Any obstacles or limitations really make us work really hard, and they force us to be more creative. Don’t make an enemy out of a problem, because that makes you grow as a creative person and as a filmmaker.