Thousands of Leibovitz works donated to N.S. gallery

The Canadian Press
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A photo of Queen Elizabeth II is viewed, as a collection of artwork by famed American photographer Annie Leibovitz is donated to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax Thursday. The work by the celebrity portrait photographer has been given to the Halifax gallery from the Al and Faye Mintz family. — Photo by The Canadian Press

A Canadian family has donated more than 2,000 photos by famed American artist Annie Leibovitz to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS), making it the country’s largest collection of her images of celebrity and pop culture icons.

Officials announced Thursday that the family of Al and Faye Mintz bestowed the images to the gallery in what is its largest single donation of one artist.

One of the images, known throughout the world, features a naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono snuggling on a floor five hours before the musician was gunned down in front of his New York apartment.

“This is a huge boost for us,” Ray Cronin, the gallery’s director and CEO, said in front of oversized images of Lennon and the Blues Brothers with their faces painted blue.

“Annie Leibovitz is the person who’s taken the portrait of the baby boom generation. ... She’s the one who has owned that whole area of popular culture.”

The collection is comprised of images published in 10 books and include many of her more notorious portraits, like that of a naked and pregnant Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg bathing in milk and a brooding Queen Elizabeth II.

Mark Bursey, chairman of the gallery’s board of governors, said it’s hoped the prized acquisition will make Halifax more of a destination for visitors from the region and around the world.

“We really hope it’s going to expand our reach in terms of visitors and members of the gallery and international visitors,” he said.

“It should become a destination for people travelling.”

Cronin wouldn’t put a value on the collection, which includes photos as big as three feet, two inches high by

16 feet wide and is the “most valuable single gift of photography the AGNS has ever received.”

It’s expected part of the collection will be exhibited this autumn and that the artist may attend, Cronin said.

The 63-year-old New York photographer was regularly featured in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines.

“My parents have always loved Annie Leibovitz’s photography, how she combines technique with creativity, beauty with controversy, humour with honesty,” Harley Mintz, Al and Faye’s son, said in a statement.

“For them, every photograph told a story and, with my mother’s passing two years ago, my father is thrilled to be able to share these ‘stories’ with the people of Nova Scotia.”

The artist has no clear ties to the province, but Cronin said he had many discussions with her and the Mintz family starting last fall about the gallery and that Leibovitz ultimately decided it would be a good fit for her collection.

“She liked the idea of having something in Canada, so she agreed to create an actual edition of her work,” Cronin said, adding that she wanted the work to be given to a smaller gallery.

“She sees it as being the representative images of her career.”

Leibovitz was facing serious financial problems in 2009 and had to sell off some of her photographs, but managed to avoid bankruptcy after negotiating a deal to repay a multimillion-dollar loan.

Leibovitz started out as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone in 1970 and soon became its chief photographer — an early career track that included U.S. president Richard Nixon’s resignation and the Rolling Stones’ 1975 tour.

When she joined Vanity Fair, she became the foremost rock music photographer and documentarian of the social landscape, covering actors, directors, writers, musicians, athletes and politicians.

Organizations: Rolling Stones, Blues Brothers, Vanity Fair

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, New York, Canada U.S.

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