Recently, a VoCA reader commented on a news item we posted on a Toronto collector donating this year’s Venice Biennale installation by David Altmejd to the Art Gallery of Ontario – a $300,000 gift. Our reader was questioning the acquisition policy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
VoCA has heard grumblings from Toronto dealers about the lack of local artists in Toronto museum collections, so we asked AGO curator David Moos to comment. This is what he said:
VOCA READER: The (VoCA) story about the AGO and the Altmejd piece raises some interesting questions that VOCA might look into and write about. It concerns the acquisition policies of public Canadian galleries like the AGO and the National Gallery in Ottawa.
In this case private collectors footed the bill for a piece the AGO wanted. Thatâ€™s fine. But the AGO has an acquisition budget of almost 1.3 million dollars a year (according to their most recent financial statement posted on the AGO web site – the National gallery has considerably more). The AGO could have bought the Altmejd piece on their own, but of course if someone wants to buy it for them then who is to argue? But would the AGO have paid for the piece if no one stepped forward with the cash?
DAVID MOOS: Yes, it is possible that the AGO could have acquired The Index, purchasing it from a newly created endowment fund that was a key component of the Transformation AGO fundraising campaign. Although the entire campaign is not fully completed, the Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment â€“ with a goal of $5 million â€“ has been successfully completed. This significantly enhances the AGOâ€™s ability to purchase works of art.
In the recent past (before the endowment, which is just becoming active), the AGO did purchases works of art. Some examples of works by Canadian artists purchased since my arrival to the AGO in 2004 include works by Shary Boyle, Janieta Eyre, Luis Jacob, Nestor Kruger, Tim Lee, Mark Lewis, Scott McFarland, among others.
In todayâ€™s rapidly expanding international art, no art museum can have enough money for acquisitions. If in the past art museums were often confined to merely spend what money they had available in endowment funds, today there are many more ways that the museum actively engages the art community to participate in the shared project of building a great collection of contemporary art. The example set by George Hartman and Arlene Goldman is merely one of a number of acquisitions that have been made through the direct generosity of local patrons and collectors. Increasingly, the museumâ€™s collection reflects the dialogue that is shared between curators and collectors. This is a healthy development.
VR: And the larger question is how does the AGO decide how to spend its acquisition budget? My understanding is that they are loath to spend any money on contemporary Canadian art (by living working artists), preferring instead to have this type of art donated. They generally spend the money on older art and foreign art. Which raises the question of whether public galleries should be spending money to acquire new Canadian art?
DM: I hope by the names listed above â€“ of purchases with AGO funds â€“ that I have addressed your misconception about being â€œloathâ€ to acquire works by living (and even still emerging!) Canadian artists.
Today works by established international artists is increasingly expensive; perhaps Canadian art is good buyâ€¦ (VoCA says Word to that!)
VR: I believe strongly that they should. It is nice that people donate art to galleries but sometimes a gallery should pay for good work that no one wants to donate. Perhaps VOCA could interview curators at these institutions to find out why they do what they do.
DM: Great idea !
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