Canada's Curatorial Conundrum Considering Annie Leibovitz

Canada's Curatorial Conundrum Considering Annie Leibovitz

When it comes to the art world, the value of a piece of work is generally however much people are willing to pay. But in one case happening in Canada, it's not quite that simple.

Annie Leibovitz needs no introduction (he says before introducing her). She is known for gorgeous portraits of celebrities and politicians often utilizing a single light. As a photographer, Leibovitz has prints. Prints that fetch a lot of money. And that is where this article's focus is.

Businessman and friend of Leibovitz's, Harley Mintz, bought a collection of 2,000 prints of her work paying her approximately $2.5 million in 2013. This is half of an agreed upon price of $4.75 million, with the other half to be paid after the collection was certified. This is where the problems started. Two days after the purchase, Mintz donated the prints to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, claiming that he had them appraised at $20 million, meaning that the tax credit he received from the donation would be worth more than the money he would be paying to Leibovitz.

The Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, which exists to determine whether or not art and other cultural artifacts donated to museums and galleries are of "outstanding significance and national importance" for income tax purposes, denied the collection a certification on four separate occasions, claiming it was a tax shelter move.

Since Leibovitz owns the copyright to the prints, as she has yet to be paid all the money owed to her, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is in limbo. They have thousands of gorgeous prints, ready to go for a big show and yet they cannot legally showcase them. The current option is that the gallery pays Leibovitz the remainder of the money she is owed in order to get permission to showcase the gallery, but this isn't without drawbacks.

For one, Nova Scotia is not a big rich province, so to be spending over $2 million for a bunch of prints is a lot of money. Secondly, Leibovitz has next to zero ties to Nova Scotia, a province which is very proud of its heritage, so giving all this money to someone who has never given the province a second thought instead of more local-oriented artists has definitely ruffled some feathers.

In my opinion, I feel as though Mintz is doing some shady dealings. The fact that Leibovitz would not be curating or attending the exhibition, and the fact that he turned around and donated the prints just days later and claiming they were worth over four times what he had agreed to pay for them sets off a lot of red flags and I feel the Canadian Government is right to deny the certification.

With that said, I also feel it's a good investment for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to pay the money she is owed as it is a fairly unique exhibition — with lots of drama around it now — that will bring people in from all over. This means more eyeballs on the rest of the gallery's collection of Nova Scotian artists, as well as money to local restaurants, hotels, and businesses resulting in (hopefully) a net positive for the province.

What do you think about this whole situation? Is Mintz being genuine in his donation? Would you travel to Nova Scotia for this exhibition to see what all the hubbub is about?

Photo by Robert Scoble from WikiMedia under Creative Commons 2.0.

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Simon Patterson's picture

The only question here is : what are they worth? Only the market can decide that.

It's an easy question to answer. Put them up for auction.

Whatever amount it makes becomes Mitz' tax credit. If it makes over $4.75mil, then Leibovitz gets the balance owing to her. The art gallery keeps the rest.

Then we'll see who the shady party is. That would be the side who doesn't agree to such an arrangement.

michaeljin's picture

I'm confused. How would putting them up for auction solve anything? Or are you saying have a public vote on what they're worth?

Simon Patterson's picture

Auctioning the collection is the only surefire way to determine its value. A vote with people's wallets, if you will.

Once the collection is auctioned, the photographer gets her money, the gallery gets the balance of the value of the collection in cash, and the millionaire gets his tax credits. And all parties get fair value, as determined by the market, which is the only true way to determine real value.

Kirk Darling's picture

If you put them up for auction, then the gallery would only get what didn't sell at all..the least worthy prints.

Simon Patterson's picture

The gallery would get the value of the sale, minus the amount owed to the photographer.

Kirk Darling's picture

It's not yet certain the gallery owns them.

Simon Patterson's picture

This makes no difference if all 3 parties agree to the arrangement.

David Penner's picture

The province definitely does not have the money to just buy millions of dollars worth of art.

michaeljin's picture

Don't display the photos. Rent a storage unit without any climate control, throw them all in there, and stop paying for the unit so that it can show up on an episode of Storage Wars. Just make sure to put everything in randomly labelled boxes to confuse everyone at the auction.

On a serious note: Ain't nobody going to freaking Nova Scotia to see some Annie Leibovitz photos...

user-206807's picture

Annie Leibovitz is the most overrated photographer that exists…

Jan Kruize's picture

Says Laughing Cow.... with no single picture on this website...

user-206807's picture

Annie Leibovitz exists because she was in the right place at the right time and knew the right people. She was just "built" by show business friends and politicians friends.
Annie Leibovitz is very good at selling herself, she is an excellent manager, but not the best photographer as some people would like we believe.
I'm not saying she's a bad photographer, but there are thousands of unknown photographers who are surely better than her. Unfortunately for them, they do not have the necessary relationships to become famous.

And for your information, the reason why I have no pictures on this site, or on others, concerns only me and my clients

Jan Kruize's picture

Me and my clients..... don’t make me laugh.... where can i find your work?

Kirk Darling's picture

She also didn't get overawed by the stars, successfully got them to drop their masks, and took perceptive and technically superior images. Consistently.

The most? I think you're suffering from Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Jan Kruize's picture

Come on man..... you just posted the most overrated comment. This woman has a portfolio,,, with the greatest people in the world. And then someone who calls himself LaughingCow says.... the most overrated photographer that exists....

Kirk Darling's picture

It sounds to me like Mintz had planned a massive tax scam from the beginning.

Even though Leibovitz got some big money (and probably more than the set of 2,000 photos would get at auction) and the gallery has a nice set of photographs, they were both like the people who make money in a Ponzi scheme. They were tools for the bigger scam.

Mintz needs to be arrested for an attempted fraud of the government and Leibovitz and the gallery should keep what they have.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Heck, send the prints back to her and get CANADIAN photographers work on their walls. Unbelievable.

Leibovitz avoided bankruptcy in 2009 as she had overextended herself and nearly lost all her property and work.

This saga has been going on so long in Nova Scotia that you would think they would have given up.

How many Canadian art elites have they tried to influence as the next acquisition committee appoints new members who may be swayed?

Oh and by the way: This stinks of abuse.

Mintz is obviously a tax scammer. The "really famous photographer doing nothing" thing has always conflicted me. Im sure the dues were paid for decades before that point..but it really does turn into something where clients pay for a "Name" on a shot that hundreds of struggling photographers could easily shoot. In the early 90's I shot in Miami...and my first day there I woke up to Patrick Demarchelier shooting in my hotel lobby. He didnt lift a finger for almost an hour...sipping espresso with clients. When everything was ready...he walked up...put his finger on the button for maybe a minute...then walked back to his coffee that had barely cooled off. Did he deserve to get to that point? Absolutely. But was one light with a team of like 8 people. The next day I duplicated the same took me 15 minutes. Alone.

Dan Marchant's picture

Is this still going on? This story is years old.

The tax incentives are there to encourage local culture/art, not import other cultures art.... plus it's an obvious tax scam on the part of the person donating the art.

burn them. they are worthless.

much as I like AL's work, no piece of "art" should hold the public hostage.

mintz is obviously a graduate of trump university and should be treated like the piece of defecation that he is.

leave him holding the bill, and maybe for once in his thieving life he will actually have to pay for something.

burn them

Adam Nelson's picture

Annie has earned her stripes, and the number of people denouncing her technique on here is alarming. Jealousy knows no bounds in the photography community.

Sean Sauer's picture

All "fine art" purchases are "tax shelter moves". Don't these people watch "Adam Ruins Everything"? lol!