Annie Leibovitz. Photo: Philip Montgomery / New York Times.

Gift of Annie Leibovitz Photos to Nova Scotia Museum Encounters Delays

Harley Mintz, a retired Canadian businessman, purchased 2,070 Annie Leibovitz photographs in 2012 for $4.75 million and planned to gift the group of works to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax, making him eligible for a generous tax deduction. But years later the Canadian government, which scrutinizes such deductions more carefully than the US, has become reticent to approve it, as its review panel won’t accept the collection’s $20 million valuation, write Sopan Deb and Colin Moynihan of the New York Times. The Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board has only certified 762 of the prints so far, valued at $1.6 million. The gift has been called “a tax grab” by an advisor to the panel. Mintz does not see it this way: “We were asked 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,” he said. The museum is in the middle of preparing its fourth application to the board for the works’ approval.

Leibovitz has only received half of the $4.75 million purchase from Mintz. She will not receive the rest of the money until the panel approves the gift, as stated in a contract she signed with the businessman. It’s also unclear why Leibovitz agreed to this particular deal if the photos are worth considerably more. Experts say the $20 million valuation for the works isn’t off the mark, provided they are not sold in one fell swoop. (“I can’t imagine that you’re going to sell 2,000 Annie Leibovitz prints at whatever her prices are in a [short] period of time,” said Alan Klinkhoff, a Canadian art dealer.) But a representative for the board, who spoke anonymously on its behalf, said that the artist’s works did not meet its criteria of “outstanding significance and national importance”—even though Leo Glavine, Nova Scotia’s minister of culture, said, “I’m quite mystified as to why this has not been given the significance that it should have received.”

The museum would consider receiving the full collection a major boon, as it would make Halifax a cultural destination. “I know that Nova Scotians and Art Gallery of Nova Scotia visitors are eager and excited to see this collection. I know the results of previous applications—and the length of time it has taken—has been frustrating for the artist, the donor and, most importantly, for Nova Scotians,” said Nancy Noble, the museum’s director. Noble, however, is optimistic that the board will accept the work this time around—a decision is expected in the fall.