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.