Obituary: Pauline Vogelpoel ; Director of the Contemporary Art Society
Hannam, Vanessa, The Independent (London, England)
PAULINE VOGELPOEL ran the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) for nearly 30 years, helping museums to acquire the work of living artists, and encouraging greater awareness of contemporary art.
The CAS was founded in 1910 to ensure that public collections in Britain would reflect the most interesting and challenging art of the day. The organisation buys works of art with finances raised by corporate and individual membership, to give to regional and national museums. In the 90 years since the society was established, 5,000 works have been presented to collections, including works by Augustus John, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, and more recently Richard Long, Damien Hirst, Helen Chadwick and Douglas Gordon.
Vogelpoel took over as Organising Secretary in 1954. This was a golden era for the visual arts. She was the first person to organise candlelit dinners to mark exhibition openings, turning ordinary events into something magical, and what better place to do it but the echoing glamour of the sculpture hall at the Tate Gallery. Vogelpoel also organised and led cultural tours abroad for CAS members, many of whom became life-long friends.
The CAS had grace-and-favour premises in the basement of the Tate, in a delightful vaulted cavern conveniently near the restaurant. The office was filled with strange green plants and baize cloths, which served to conceal Vogepoel's eccentric but flawless filing system. One entire room was devoted to the "addressograph" machine, an old-fashioned printing device which took two and half days to produce the 2,500 address labels needed for a CAS membership mailing.
With her beauty, unsurpassable style and indomitable energy, Vogelpoel quickly became a doyenne of the arts world. She organised a number of imaginative and brave exhibitions for the CAS including British Painting in the Sixties (1963), featuring works by Terry Frost, Howard Hodgkin and Peter Lanyon, and British Sculpture in the Sixties (1965), which included a sculpture by Anthony Caro; these showed at the Whitechapel Art Gallery as well as the Tate Gallery. The first of these also travelled to Zurich, with funding from British Petroleum. This was the start of CAS's relationship with the corporate sector over many years, with Vogelpoel advising Mobil Oil, De Beers and BP on their contemporary art collections.
But the Tate at that time was not altogether a happy place. Roy Strong describes in his diaries the dapper and clever director John Rothenstein as the "Ringmaster" and many doubted his suitability for the position. It was arguably his successor Norman Reid who finally dragged the Tate screaming into the 20th century. Vogelpoel inevitably found herself caught up in what is now known as "The Tate Affair".
She regularly lunched with Rothenstein at the Whistler restaurant, which boasted the best wine cellar and the prettiest waitresses in London. In 1954 Vogelpoel accompanied Rothenstein to the Diaghilev exhibition at Forbes House. Douglas Cooper, a collector of genius and a critic of unparalleled viciousness, had made Rothenstein's life a misery. On this occasion Cooper followed him round the room openly taunting him. Finally Rothenstein flipped and, just as Vogelpoel turned and diplomatically tried to engage him in conversation elsewhere, he punched Cooper twice in the face.
Pauline Vogelpoel was born in 1926 in Lourenco Marques in Mozambique (Portuguese East Africa), where her father, Pieter, worked in the family shipping firm and was the Dutch Consul. When Pieter Vogelpoel died of typhoid in his early thirties, his widow, Yvonne, decided to return to her family home in Cape Town, with her two young children.
Mrs Vogelpoel came from an upper-middle-class Jewish family who had emigrated from France to South Africa. After her …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Pauline Vogelpoel ; Director of the Contemporary Art Society. Contributors: Hannam, Vanessa - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 3, 2002. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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