Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.

Canadian Government Denies “Culturally Significant” Status for Collection of Annie Leibovitz Photographs

After a gift of 2,070 Annie Leibovitz photographs to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax encountered delays, Sopan Deb reports in the New York Times that a Canadian government panel has finally decided against certifying the entire collection of photos as “culturally significant,” a designation that had been sought for tax purposes by the museum.

“We disagree with the decision,” the museum said in a statement. “We consider Annie Leibovitz to be one of the most influential photographers of her time and feel the collection is culturally significant—to our province, our country, and internationally.” The photographs were originally bought for $4.75 million by retired Canadian businessman Harley Mintz, who donated them to the museum in 2013. The institution has not exhibited them while the government panel, known as the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, has been deliberating. Though the board has approved 762 of the works, with a value of $1.6 million, as “culturally significant,” it has rejected several attempts by the museum to have the whole collection deemed as such.

The donor needed the panel to approve the full collection’s significance to qualify for a larger tax deduction. An adviser to the board of the museum had, at one point, described the donation as a “tax grab,” according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, an assessment that the donor disputed. As far as exhibiting the collection goes, even though the museum owns the photographs now, under Canadian copyright law, public exhibitions of the works must be authorized by the copyright holder, which in this case is Leibovitz. “Our priority,” the museum said in its statement, “is still to share the work of this iconic and celebrated artist—in our gallery and across the country. We will talk to the artist to determine the best path forward. At this point the final decision to show the work can only be made by the artist.”