A trove of fa­mous pho­tos re­mains shut­tered in stor­age

Nova Sco­tia gallery’s do­nated Lei­bowitz col­lec­tion in limbo over gov­ern­ment’s tax con­cerns


HALIFAX— It was an enor­mous coup for a small art gallery, scor­ing 2,070 pho­tos by famed Amer­i­can por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher An­nie Lei­bovitz.

But the do­na­tion of the mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar col­lec­tion to the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia by a Toronto fam­ily has been mired in con­tro­versy — with al­le­ga­tions that the gift was a po­ten­tial tax shel­ter — leav­ing the im­ages of celebrity and pop cul­ture icons in stor­age for four years.

On Wed­nes­day the Halifax gallery’s fourth and fi­nal ap­pli­ca­tion to have a fed­eral board cer­tify the pho­to­graphs as “cul­tural prop­erty” of out­stand­ing sig­nif­i­cance was re­jected, cast­ing a shadow over the prospects of the gallery hold­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s work.

A gallery spokesper­son said the Cana­dian Cul­tural Prop­erty Ex­port Re­view Board has once again con­cluded that the bulk of the pho­to­graphs did not meet the cri­te­ria for out­stand­ing sig­nif­i­cance or na­tional im­por­tance.

Colin Stinson said the gallery is “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” and dis­agrees with the fed­eral board’s de­ci­sion, not­ing that Lei­bovitz is one of “the most in­flu­en­tial pho­tog­ra­phers of her time.”

While the board cer­ti­fied Lei­bovitz’s file col­lec­tion — a se­ries of snap­shots that led to fi­nal pho­to­graphs — it re­fused to cer­tify the large-scale ex­hi­bi­tion-style prints.

The col­lec­tion in­cludes a por­trait of a naked and preg­nant Demi Moore, a brood­ing im­age of the Queen, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Brothers, and the haunt­ing photo of a naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono cud­dling on a floor hours be­fore the mu­si­cian was shot dead in New York in 1980.

Stinson said the gallery’s pri­or­ity is to dis­play the pho­tog­ra­phy, but with­out the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that de­ci­sion be­longs to Lei­bovitz.

The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is cru­cial for tax in­cen­tives that en­cour­age pri­vate col­lec­tors to do­nate art­work to pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions that couldn’t oth­er­wise af­ford it.

Toronto art lawyer Aaron Mil­rad has said the works were pur­chased for roughly $4.75 mil­lion (U.S.) but have a fair mar­ket value closer to $20 mil­lion.

He said the fed­eral board got “all hot and heavy about the money part” and failed to rec­og­nize the spec­tac­u­lar mag­ni­tude of the col­lec­tion.

The do­na­tion by the fam­ily of Al and Faye Mintz of Toronto was a colos­sal score for the gallery, which owned noth­ing by Lei­bovitz at the time.

For Lei­bovitz, who had a fi­nan­cial cri­sis sev­eral years ear­lier, the trans­ac­tion meant she earned sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars.

Four years later, though, the re­view board was balk­ing at ap­prov­ing the de­duc­tion, partly be­cause it would not ac­cept the $20-mil­lion val­u­a­tion.

An ad­viser to the board de­scribed the ar­range­ment in notes to the tri­bunal as “a tax grab,” ac­cord­ing to the CBC, which first re­ported on the im­passe. That char- ac­ter­i­za­tion was vig­or­ously dis­puted by Har­ley Mintz, a Deloitte Canada part­ner, now re­tired, who bought the Lei­bovitz ma­te­rial in 2013.

“We were asked,” Mintz told The New York Times in an email, “to help fa­cil­i­tate a ma­jor gift to the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia that would pro­vide it with a unique col­lec­tion of art from one of the world’s most praised pho­tog­ra­phers and that is ex­actly what we did. In­stead of be­ing cel­e­brated, it has been met with re­sis­tance, for rea­sons that we do not un­der­stand.”

The odyssey of Lei­bovitz’s col­lec­tion pro­vides a win­dow into the process by which gov­ern­ments work to bol­ster cul­tural en­rich­ment by un­der­writ­ing pri­vate do­na­tions of art with tax de­duc­tions. In Canada, where such de­duc­tions re­ceive more gov­ern­ment scru­tiny than in the U.S., the process can in­clude dis­putes over the na­tional sig­nif­i­cance of the art, as well as its value, and some­times, ques­tions re­gard­ing whether a donor’s mo­tives are more phil­an­thropic or op­por­tunis­tic.

The mu­seum is in the midst of its fourth ap­pli­ca­tion to have the col­lec­tion ac­cepted by the panel, the Cul­tural Prop­erty Ex­port Re­view Board, which cer­ti­fies do­nated works as na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant and then de­ter­mines their value.

The panel has granted such sta­tus to only 762 of the prints, at a value of $1.6 mil­lion.

In the mean­time, the en­tire col­lec­tion is in stor­age and Lei­bovitz has re­ceived only half of the promised $4.75 mil­lion. By con­tract, she does not re­ceive the rest of the money un­less the gov­ern­ment panel signs off, ac­cord­ing to Mintz.

Just how this am­bi­tious, but now stalled, art ini­tia­tive was born re­mains un­clear. Lei­bovitz, through her gallery, de­clined to com­ment. The mu­seum said through a spokesper­son that it did not come up with the idea. And Mintz said only that he was ap­proached by “knowl­edge­able art-world fig­ures” af­ter the idea for such a gift arose.

But why would Lei­bovitz ac­cept $4.75 mil­lion for a col­lec­tion that might be worth some mul­ti­ple of that? That is one is­sue that has given Cana­dian of­fi­cials pause, though the $20-mil­lion val­u­a­tion is sup­ported by three in­de­pen­dent ap­praisals un­der­taken by the mu­seum within days of the sale and do­na­tion. One of the ap­prais­ers, Lucy von Brachel, de­clined to com­ment on her val­u­a­tion, cit­ing the pri­vacy of her clients, but other ex­perts said that the 2,070 Lei­bovitz pic­tures could be worth $20 mil­lion if they were sold in­di­vid­u­ally over time in­stead of all at once.

Alan Klinkhoff, a gallery owner in Canada who has been an ex­pert for the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, agreed that it was con­ceiv­able that the Lei­bovitz pho­to­graphs could be fairly val­ued at $20 mil­lion. Lei­bovitz, he said, could have been mo­ti­vated to ac­cept less be­cause she was able to sell a large num­ber of pho­to­graphs quickly. “I can’t imag­ine that you’re go­ing to sell 2,000 An­nie Lei­bovitz prints at what­ever her prices are in a shorter pe­riod of time,” he said.

A re­view board spokesper­son, cit­ing tax­payer con­fi­den­tial­ity, de­clined to com­ment on why the en­tire Lei­bovitz col­lec­tion had not met its stan­dard of “out­stand­ing sig­nif­i­cance and na­tional im­por­tance.” But the board said that it typ­i­cally made those de­ter­mi­na­tions based on fac­tors, in­clud­ing artis­tic value, es­thetic qual­i­ties and the work’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Cana­dian his­tory.

Some have won­dered why the full col­lec­tion did not pass muster with the board.

“I’m quite mys­ti­fied as to why this has not been given the sig­nif­i­cance that it should have re­ceived,” Leo Glavine, Nova Sco­tia’s cul­ture min­is­ter, told the CBC this month. With files from Sopan Deb and Colin Moyni­han of The New York Times

“In­stead of be­ing cel­e­brated, it has been met with re­sis­tance, for rea­sons that we do not un­der­stand.” HAR­LEY MINTZ


In 2013, Har­ley Mintz pur­chased a col­lec­tion of An­nie Lei­bowitz pho­tos that were do­nated to the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia.

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