Toronto donors confident Leibovitz photos will be displayed, warn of art chill

A wealthy Toronto family that donated a multi-million-dollar collection of Annie Leibovitz photographs to a small Halifax art gallery is confident the works will eventually be displayed, but warns that a federal board’s refusal to recognize the art’s cultural value could harm Canadian galleries and museums.

The Mintz family said it is “incredibly disappointed” the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board decided not to grant the bulk of the collection donated to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia a certification of cultural significance, which comes with important tax breaks for donors.

“We don’t believe that a bureaucratic panel in Ottawa should be rejecting what the museums themselves acknowledge as important gifts,” Bonnie Jackson, a spokeswoman for the family, said in an emailed statement Friday.

“In Canada, a program of incentives ensures that public galleries can acquire great collections. Without it, our museums would suffer.”

The Mintz family donated more than 2,000 photos by the famed American portrait artist to the Halifax gallery four years ago.

The collection includes the Rolling Stone cover of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, a naked and pregnant Demi Moore, a brooding image of the Queen, Whoopi Goldberg bathing in milk and images of the Blues Brothers.

The gallery has submitted four applications to the federal review board for certification.

“We are surprised that, once again, (the board) has refused to recognize Annie Leibovitz’s hand-picked collection as being of outstanding significance and national importance,” Jackson said. “The rationale behind their decision, or how they came to this conclusion at all, is something we do not understand and do not wish to speculate on.”

Still, Jackson said the Mintz family does not see this as the end of the road, and is confident a solution will be found so that one day the collection can be ”proudly showcased.”

The art gallery said that although it owns all the pieces, Leibovitz maintains the copyright and it’s up to her whether they can be shown publicly.

The photographer has not yet spoken publicly on the matter.

Toronto art lawyer Aaron Milrad has echoed the family’s concerns about the board’s repeated refusal to certify the Leibovitz works, noting that it could send a chill over the art world.

At issue, Milrad said this week, is a discrepancy between the appraised value of the works and the reported purchase price.

The Mintz family bought the collection for US$4.75 million, he said, but the photos have an appraised value closer to $20 million.

Milrad said if the collection had been granted the cultural certification, the donor would have received a sizable tax break.

To complicate matters, the contract between the artist and the donor stipulated that a final payment was due upon certification, he said.

The Mintz family spokeswoman said she could not share the board’s decision publicly due to a confidentiality agreement with Leibovitz.

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