Four years af­ter do­na­tion, An­nie Lei­bovitz photograph­s re­main in stor­age

The Western Star - - Obituaries/Canada -

Four years af­ter the coun­try’s largest col­lec­tion of photograph­s by famed Amer­i­can artist An­nie Lei­bovitz was do­nated to the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia, the im­ages of celebrity and pop cul­ture icons re­main in stor­age.

The im­passe stems from a re­fusal by an in­de­pen­dent fed­eral board to cer­tify the multi-mil­lion dol­lar col­lec­tion as “cul­tural prop­erty’’ of out­stand­ing sig­nif­i­cance, leav­ing many well­known por­traits in the dark, in­clud­ing a naked and preg­nant Demi Moore, and Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Broth­ers.

Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia di­rec­tor Nancy No­ble said the Cana­dian Cul­tural Prop­erty Ex­port Re­view Board has re­peat­edly re­fused to cer­tify the bulk of the Lei­bovitz pho­tos.

“They ba­si­cally have de­ter­mined that it’s not of out­stand­ing cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance and we dis­agree with them,’’ No­ble said Wed­nes­day. “An­nie Lei­bovitz is a cul­tural icon across the world and she is the por­trait artist of our times.’’

Other fa­mous im­ages in the col­lec­tion in­clude ac­tress Whoopi Gold­berg bathing in milk, a brood­ing Queen El­iz­a­beth II, and the haunt­ing photo of a naked John Len­non and Yoko Ono snug­gling on a floor five hours be­fore the mu­si­cian was gunned down in front of his New York apart­ment.

While the board cer­ti­fied Liebovitz’s “file col­lec­tion’’ _ the se­ries of snap­shots that led to fi­nal photograph­s _ it has re­fused to cer­tify the large-scale ex­hi­bi­tion-style prints.

No­ble said she’s at a loss to un­der­stand why only a por­tion of the col­lec­tion would be cer­ti­fied.

A spokesman for Lei­bovitz said in an email she is out of the coun­try and “just not com­ment­ing on this mat­ter right now.’’

Toronto art lawyer Aaron Mil­rad said the board made an er­ror.

“I be­lieve the board could have been more gen­er­ous about un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of the art­work and the qual­ity of the op­por­tu­nity that would be avail­able for stu­dents ... to study that work and be­come a re­pos­i­tory of note in Canada,’’ he said.

Mil­rad said for a small Cana­dian venue to ob­tain a col­lec­tion of this mag­ni­tude was a “coup.’’

“You don’t get too many women pho­tog­ra­phers of that cal­i­bre and na­ture ... It’s been a man’s area with just a few ex­cep­tions. This is an archives, in­clud­ing the neg­a­tives, that’s ir­re­place­able.’’

Mean­while, the gallery sub­mit­ted its fourth and fi­nal ap­pli­ca­tion to the board in June and ex­pects to hear back in the com­ing months.

Mu­se­ums and gal­leries only have five years to cer­tify “cul­tural prop­erty’’ fol­low­ing a do­na­tion, so No­ble said this will be the last at­tempt.

The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­vides im­por­tant tax in­cen­tives to donors, she said, en­cour­ag­ing pri­vate col­lec­tors to do­nate art­work to pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions that couldn’t other­wise af­ford the art.

“The price of art has es­ca­lated over the years and so it be­comes very, very dif­fi­cult with­out do­na­tions to build a col­lec­tion,’’ No­ble said.

How­ever, it’s those tax in­cen­tives that may have raised red flags. In fact, Mil­rad said the laws around tax shel­ter gift­ing ar­range­ments were changed two years af­ter the do­na­tion was made.

He said the board got “all hot and heavy about the money part.’’ He said the works were pur­chased for about US$4.75 mil­lion but have a fair mar­ket value closer to $20 mil­lion.

The fam­ily of Al and Faye Mintz of Toronto do­nated the im­ages to the gallery in June 2013 in what was the largest sin­gle do­na­tion of one artist.

“We are dis­ap­pointed that this spec­tac­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tion is tucked away and not avail­able to the pub­lic,’’ Har­ley Mintz said in an emailed state­ment.

“The very rea­son that we agreed to par­tic­i­pate was so that this spe­cific col­lec­tion could be viewed, shared and en­joyed by the pub­lic. In­stead, what should have been a cel­e­bra­tion has not oc­curred. All we can do is hope the is­sue is re­solved quickly. ... We re­main con­fi­dent the (board) course cor­rects.’’

Cana­dian Her­itage Depart­ment spokesman Jon Schofield said in an email that the board’s role is lim­ited to cer­ti­fy­ing cul­tural prop­erty as be­ing of out­stand­ing sig­nif­i­cance and na­tional im­por­tance, and de­ter­min­ing its fair mar­ket value for tax pur­poses.

But he could not com­ment on why the bulk of the col­lec­tion was not cer­ti­fied, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns.

A photo of Queen El­iz­a­beth is viewed as a col­lec­tion of art­work by famed Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher An­nie Lei­bovitz is do­nated to the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia in Hal­i­fax on Thurs­day, June 6, 2013. Four years af­ter the coun­try’s largest col­lec­tion of...

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