Nova Scotia mulls fate of iconic Annie Leibovitz photography collection

Nova Scotia mulls fate of iconic Annie Leibovitz photography collection

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government is reviving hopes that a collection of iconic portraits by famed American photographer Annie Leibovitz could be displayed at the provincial gallery.

The influential works, including an introspective image of the Queen and a portrait of a pregnant Demi Moore, have been stuck in storage at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax as a tax battle was waged in Ottawa.

A federal cultural board refused to grant the collection a stamp of cultural significance, withholding lucrative tax incentives to the art donor and — as a result — final payment to Leibovitz.

Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine said the gallery has held ongoing discussions with the photographer's team but there is "nothing definite."

In remarks released Thursday by the province, Glavine said he thinks the fact that Leibovitz hasn't been fully paid for her work remains a contentious issue.

However, he said the photographer is optimistic her collection could be exhibited in Nova Scotia.  

"I think there is great opportunity," Glavine said, noting that there is "immense potential to have her work on display at the art gallery."

He added that it's "not out of the question" that the province could consider helping the gallery pay the exhibition fee to showcase the compelling collection, though he said no request has come to government.

Nancy Noble, director and CEO of the gallery, said in an email that "negotiations of this nature are sensitive."

"We are limited in what we can share at this point in time," she said. "We know that Nova Scotians and Canadians are eager and excited to see this very special collection, and our priority remains sharing the work of this iconic and celebrated artist in our gallery and across the country."

The collection includes a portrait of Whoopi Goldberg bathing in milk, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Brothers, and a striking photo of a naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono hours before the musician was gunned down in front of his New York apartment.

A wealthy Toronto family donated the multi-million-dollar collection of Leibovitz photographs in June 2013, the largest single donation of one artist to the gallery.

The Mintz family had purchased the art for an estimated US$4.75-million, with half held back pending the outcome of a cultural panel. But the photos have an appraised value closer to $20-million, Toronto art lawyer Aaron Milrad has said.

Last year, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board decided not to grant the bulk of the celebrated collection a certification of cultural significance, which comes with important tax breaks for donors.

Harley Mintz had previously said his family is disappointed the "spectacular exhibition" of more than 2,000 photos is "tucked away and not available to the public."

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press