The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has acquired the Malcolmson Collection, a grouping of 268 vintage photographic works by 110 significant 19th- and 20th-century artists. The acquisition was made possible through a donation of photographs by Ann and Harry Malcolmson and a private donation. The Malcolmson Collection is regarded as one of the most important collections of historical photography in private hands in Canada and has been exhibited in Vancouver in 2009 and in Toronto in 2012.
"Harry and Ann Malcolmson are passionate and innovative collectors who believe strongly in the power of art to transform lives," said Matthew Teitelbaum, Director and CEO of the AGO. "Thanks to their extraordinary generosity, this one-of-a-kind collection will remain in Canada and transform the AGO's photography holdings. It will spark new approaches to our own collection and open up new ways to represent the art of the 20th century. Already we are developing programming and education initiatives centered on these works, which we now hold in the public trust."
"Ann and I are thrilled," said Harry Malcolmson. "Thanks to the AGO's intervention, the Collection will not be dispersed and will be publicly available for generations to come."
The Malcolmson Collection spans the history of photography from inventor William Fox Talbot to Robert Frank and includes representative photographs from each of the significant periods and styles of the history of the medium. It also highlights photographers known for creating a uniquely photographic visual language, including Eugène Atget, Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Harry Callahan and John Vanderpant, regarded by the Malcolmsons as Canada's most important photographer of the modernist period.
The Collection's importance and special character derives from the decision made by Harry and Ann Malcolmson in the 1980s to refocus their 30-year association with contemporary art--including Harry Malcolmson's stint as an art critic--to explore the unknown territory of historic photography.
"It was as if we entered a darkened room when we began collecting," said Harry Malcolmson. "And when the lights went up, we found ourselves in an enchanted room." Ann Malcolmson added, "That so little attention was paid to such wonderful works of art seemed inexplicable, so we responded. We didn't collect photography--it collected us."
Reflecting on their association of over 50 years with the Gallery, Harry Malcolmson remarked, "You can think of Ann and me as AGO 'lifers.'" The Malcolmsons have donated more than 50 works to the Gallery over that time, including paintings, prints and photographs--most notably the 1856 seascape by Gustave Le Gray, Le Soleil couronné, which was the first work by the artist to enter the AGO’s collection.
"The Malcolmsons have developed the leading private collection of its kind in Canada," said Maia Sutnik, the AGO's Curator of Special Photography Projects. "The core of their collection is supported by exceptional photographs marked by bold experimentation, both historical and contemporary. In many cases, these would be the first or superior examples of works to add to the AGO’s collection, particularly from the early 20th-century modernist period, which is currently a significant gap."
Offering visitors their first glimpse into the collection, select works will be on display at the AGO from June 15, 2014 to Jan. 25, 2015.