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AGO's Caribbean Acquisition

Sunday, June 09, 2019

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More than C$300,000 was raised by members of Toronto's black and Caribbean communities ostensibly to bring the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), and while SO applauds all those responsible, you'll forgive us we're certain, if we single out Rock-born philanthropists Donette Chin Loy Chang and Wes Hall.

Word came Wednesday that the AGO had acquired the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs, a singular collection of more than 3,500 historical images from 34 countries including Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. Nothing to scoff at! It's one of the largest collections of such images; this incredible visual record contains studio portraits, landscapes and tourist views.

Bringing to life the changing economies, environments and communities that emerged following the abolishment of slavery, the collection includes nearly every photographic format available during the years 1840 to 1940, including prints, postcards, daguerreotypes, lantern slides, albums, and stereographs. Prior to this, the AGO held no Caribbean photographs in its collection.

The acquisition was made possible in part by the generous contributions of a group of 27 donors, the majority of whom are from Toronto's black and Caribbean communities. Collectively, the donors raised over C$300,000, with a lead gift from Drs Liza & Frederick Murrell. Many of the donors have never before contributed to the AGO. The largest known collection outside the Caribbean, the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs now positions the AGO as a leader in Caribbean photographic research, and will make its debut in an exhibition in 2021.

“We are excited to have been part of bringing this important collection of Caribbean photographs to the AGO. Displaying and preserving these works in our diverse city is an exceptional opportunity for us and future generations. So many people, school groups and communities will be positively impacted by seeing and studying these works, and the personal and collective histories they contain,” said Drs Liza and Frederick Murrell. “Supporting this acquisition has allowed us to be active participants in shaping our cultural identity.”

Assembled by New York-based film-maker and photography collector Patrick Montgomery, a part of this collection comes to the AGO as a promised gift. A member of the board of trustees of George Eastman Museum, Montgomery, has been building this collection for over a decade.

“There has been a significant Caribbean presence in Canada — specifically Toronto — since the early 20th century. These works offer rich personal connections for audiences from these communities and meaningful opportunities for scholars worldwide,” said Stephan Jost, the Michael and Sonja Koerner director, and CEO, of the Art Gallery of Ontario. “We are incredibly grateful to our community for coming together in support of this acquisition.”

With over 60,000 objects, the photography collection at the AGO is deep in its holdings of portraiture, press photography, pop photographica, photographic albums, and social documentary photography. Under the careful stewardship of Sophie Hackett, AGO curator of photography, and Julie Crooks, assistant curator of photography, the AGO continues to acquire a diverse range of photographic works from around the world.

“This ambitious group of donors raised an impressive sum in less than a year, on the strength of these works and their ties to Toronto,” said Crooks. “It's an exciting moment for the AGO collection and for the black and Caribbean communities here.”

In 2018, thanks to a generous gift by Martha LA McCain, the AGO acquired Fade Resistance, a collection chiefly of found Polaroids documenting African-American family life from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Assembled by Toronto artist Zun Lee, this collection began with Lee's discovery of a box of Polaroids on the streets of Detroit in 2012. These vivid images chronicle milestones such as weddings, birthdays and graduations as well as personal slice-of-life moments, offering contemporary views long ignored or erased by mainstream culture.

“I'm grateful that this collection has found a committed custodian in the AGO, preserving images that offer a testament to black visual self-representation,” said Lee. “For years, these images have served as conversation-starters for people to come together and share their personal stories. I look forward to working with the AGO to engage old and new audiences in offering their own take on what it means to be seen.”

These works, like the Casa Susanna photographs and the World War I albums acquired by the AGO before them, further strengthen the AGO's commitment to exploring the artistic, historical, and social impact of photography in its broadest sense. Works from the Fade Resistance Collection will go on view at the AGO in 2021.

In addition to Drs Liza & Frederick Murrell, funds for the purchase of the collection came from Bruce Croxon & Debra Thier, Wes Hall & Kingsdale Advisors, Cindy & Shon Barnett, Donette Chin-Loy Chang, Kamala-Jean Gopie, Phil Lind & Ellen Roland, Martin Doc McKinney, Francilla Charles, Ray & Georgina Williams, Thaine & Bianca Carter, Charmaine Crooks, Nathaniel Crooks, Andrew Garrett & Dr Belinda Longe, Neil L Le Grand, Michael Lewis, Dr Kenneth Montague & Sarah Aranha, Lenny & Julia Mortimore, and Ferrotype Collective, 2019.

About the AGO

Located in Toronto, Canada's largest city of 5.9 million, the AGO is one of the largest art museums in North America. The AGO collection of close to 95,000 works ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programmes, taking special care to showcase diverse and underrepresented artists. Its 585,000 square-foot building was most recently expanded in 2008 by Frank Gehry, and attracts approximately one million visitors per year.


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