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Dr. Ydessa Hendeles Makes AGO History with Contemporary Art Donation

(TORONTO - January 21, 2009) Leading art collector and philanthropist Dr. Ydessa Hendeles is donating an extraordinary collection of 32 Canadian and international contemporary artworks to the Art Gallery of Ontario, representing the most significant single gift of contemporary art in the AGO's 110-year history.

The gift includes works by groundbreaking Canadian contemporary artists Kim Adams, Ian Carr-Harris, Max Dean, Betty Goodwin, Liz Magor, Ken Lum, Ron Martin, John McEwen and Ian Wallace. The Hendeles gift also adds to the AGO's contemporary collection the first works by international artists James Coleman (Irish), Gary Hill (American),Thomas Schütte (German), Bill Viola (American) and Krzysztof Wodiczko (Polish), and augments the Gallery's holding by Giulio Paolini (Italian).

"At the core of every great institution is the collection -- the narrative through which the art of many cultures and of our time is told," says Matthew Teitelbaum, the AGO's Michael and Sonja Koerner director and CEO. "This remarkable act of generosity and vision by Ydessa Hendeles boldly augments the art we hold in the public trust. It adds key works by significant Canadian artists who are important voices in our time, and highlights the many ways that artists use media to create their identity. This gift encapsulates many of Ydessa's central interests and reflects her expertise as a renowned collector of contemporary art."

A member of the AGO Board of Trustees, Hendeles founded the Toronto-based Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, the first privately funded exhibition space for contemporary art in Canada. She has devoted the last 22 years to curating and mounting a distinctive exhibition program from works in her collection. Her acquisitions have formed what is considered to be among the most visionary contemporary art collections and art programs in the world. In combination with her earlier pioneering work as founder of The Ydessa Gallery, a commercial contemporary art gallery that she operated in Toronto from 1980 to 1988, Hendeles has played a crucial role in the evolution of contemporary art and artists in Canada, helping to propel Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Liz Magor, Kim Adams, John Massey, John McEwen, Fastwürms, Tony Brown, Noel Harding, Sandra Meigs and Jana Sterbak to international stature.

"I grew up in Toronto. Visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario regularly with my parents was a very important part of my life," says Hendeles. "This set the stage for me to find my place in the community of visual artists and writers here. My ongoing goal has been to integrate the works of Canadian artists in the context of the international art community. Art bypasses that which is socially acceptable. It helps us live our lives by giving expression to what we cannot do or say. In this way, art is a civilizing force.  Artists, by probing themselves, and making their own meaning, enable us to reflect on ourselves - our cultural past and our cultural present - to gain insight and locate ourselves in our moment in time."

The daughter of parents who survived the Holocaust, Hendeles came to Canada as a child after World War II. Her extraordinary career has spanned the fields of art historian, gallerist, and artist-curator in addition to her many philanthropic contributions. The AGO's contemporary collection had previously been enriched with her gifts of works, including Rebecca Horn, The Yellow-Black Race of the Pigments (1986); Luciano Fabro, Two Nudes Descending a Staircase Dancing the Boogie-Woogie (1989); Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Jam Life into Death) (1988); Liz Magor, The Most Notable Difference (1984); Kim Adams, Decoy Homes (1986) and The Sleeper (1985); and two works by Fastwürms from Nec Ung Deo, Nec Mille Scuta (1984) and Know by Heart Lodge + Six-Feet-By-Otter-Spot (1985).

"Ydessa Hendeles has dedicated her life to the enhancement of cultural life in Toronto and throughout Canada," says Jay Smith, a member of the AGO Board of Trustees and chair of the Gallery's contemporary curatorial committee. "As an unparalleled advocate for contemporary art, she has brought a distinctive Canadian perspective to the world stage while setting a standard for art philanthropy."

Plans are underway for an exhibition of works from the Hendeles donation within the next 18 months.


With a permanent collection of more than 79,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. In 2008, with a stunning new design by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the AGO opened its doors to the public amid international acclaim. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase made of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block along the Gallery's façade; and the feature staircase, spiralling up through the roof of Walker Court and into the new contemporary galleries above. From the extensive Group of Seven collection to the dramatic new African art gallery; from David Altmejd's monumental installation The Index to Peter Paul Rubens' masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, a highlight of the celebrated Thomson Collection, there is truly something for everyone at the AGO.


For more images and more information contact:

Antonietta Mirabelli, 416-979-6660 ext. 454,

Sean O'Neill, 416-979-6660 ext. 403,

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Culture. Additional operating support is received from the Volunteers of the AGO, the City of Toronto, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts.


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