Dorothy and Herbert Vogel collected art the way many other New York City residents shop for groceries, picking out small works at bargain prices that could be bagged and carried on the subway back to their apartment.
They knew their stuff. The Brooklyn reference librarian and her husband, a postal clerk, devoted his salary to buying drawings, paintings and sculptures by artists who were making a name for themselves in the 1960s and 1970s.
Fifty of those items will come to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery as part of an unprecedented nationwide gift arranged through the National Gallery of Art, National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The Albright-Knox is among 50 museums selected for "The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States," a program intended to fulfill the retired couple's wish to see 2,500 pieces distributed evenly across the U.S.
That the Albright-Knox is getting New York's share of the treasure is hardly surprising.
"The Vogels have lent to the Albright-Knox with great pleasure in the past," Ruth Fine, a National Gallery curator who is overseeing the distribution, noted in a letter to the gallery. "For this reason, and because of [the gallery's] importance as an educational and cultural institution in your region, the Vogels have chosen you to represent New York."
Louis Grachos, the gallery's director, said, "Considering that the best-known aspect of the Vogels' collecting focus is minimal and conceptual art, this remarkable gift fits perfectly into our collection of contemporary art."
Artists whose works are coming to Buffalo include Richard Artschwager, Lynda Benglis, Charles Clough, Larry Poons and Richard Tuttle.
"Many of these artists are already well represented in our permanent collection, and in this way the gift adds depth to the collection," Grachos said. Other artists, such as Mark Kostabi and Edda Renouf, "are welcome new additions to our holdings," he added.
The Albright-Knox has long been recognized as a fitting place to leave collections of modern and contemporary art. This will be its third significant gift in recent years, following the Natalie and Irving Forman Collection in 2005 -- the largest single gift in the gallery's history -- and a partial gift of 71 works from the Panza Collection in July.
The Vogels -- he is 85, she is 73 -- began amassing about 4,000 works in the early 1960s. They focused on younger artists, especially minimalists and conceptualists, and preferred pieces they could carry.
Many of the works are drawings, which attracted the Vogels not only because they were more affordable and often smaller in scale, but also more immediate.
"The artist's hand is in them, the ideas are there," Dorothy Vogel, an Elmira native who once studied at the University of Buffalo, has said.
The couple began donating the collection to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 1991, and the gallery has since accumulated more than 1,000 works.
But over time the Vogels decided their holdings were so vast it would be best to share them with other museums. That gave rise to the "50 for 50" idea.
The distribution started last April with gifts to 10 institutions. Twenty more, including the Albright-Knox, will receive theirs by year's end and the remaining 20 next year.
The National Endowment for the Arts is funding a book on the Vogel collection, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services is paying the tab for packing and shipping the works and developing a Web site for the project.