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Nova Scotia won't pay to exhibit works of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz

Last Updated Oct 12, 2018 at 2:20 pm EDT

Photographer Annie Leibovitz speaks during her "WOMAN: New Portraits" exhibition at the ewz-Unterwerk Selnau in Zurich, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The Nova Scotia government says it won't be paying to help the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia exhibit pictures by famed American photographer Leibovitz. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP

HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government says it won’t ante up to help the provincial art gallery exhibit an iconic collection of Annie Leibovitz photographs, even as the gallery continues negotiations with the famed American photographer.

Culture Minister Leo Glavine had said in May it “wouldn’t be out of the question” that the province could consider helping the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia pay the exhibition fee to showcase the collection, though he said no request had been made to the province.

But Glavine now says the government isn’t prepared to spend provincial dollars to get the works on display.

“So at this stage no, we are not making any offer of a monetary position,” Glavine said.

Toronto’s wealthy Mintz family donated the multi-million-dollar collection of Leibovitz photographs in June 2013, but they have been stuck in storage at the Halifax gallery as a tax battle waged with Ottawa.

The Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board ultimately turned down a series of requests to grant the collection of more than 2,000 photos a stamp of cultural significance, thus withholding lucrative tax incentives to the art donor and the final payment to Leibovitz, which is more than $2 million.

Glavine said art gallery CEO Nancy Noble has been trying to negotiate a resolution for the last year. Noble was not available for comment on Friday but in an emailed statement, gallery marketing director Colin Stinson said discussions were ongoing with “Ms. Leibovitz’s team.”

“No decisions have been made at this point in time — the gallery will provide an update to Nova Scotians as soon as we have new information to share,” he said. “Sharing the work of this iconic and celebrated artist remains a priority for the gallery and for government.”

Karen Mulligan of the Annie Leibovitz Studio also declined Friday to shed light on the situation.

“Unfortunately, due to confidentiality reasons, we are not able to provide comment,” Mulligan said in an email.

The influential works include an introspective image of the Queen and a portrait of a pregnant Demi Moore.

Other works include Whoopi Goldberg bathing in milk, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Brothers, and a striking photo of a naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono hours before the musician was gunned down in front of his New York apartment.

The Mintz family had purchased the art for an estimated US$4.75-million, with half held back pending the outcome of the cultural panel. But the photos have an appraised value closer to $20-million, Toronto art lawyer Aaron Milrad has said.

Glavine said Thursday he believes there is a “real desire” by the art gallery and Leibovitz’s representatives to have the works on display.

But he said the Mintz family should be responsible for the outstanding bill.

“The deal was made with the Mintz family and not so much with the Government of Nova Scotia,” Glavine said.