CORRECTION: The Thomson family owns 31.5 per cent of Bell Globemedia. Incorrect information appears in today's Review section.
While the news media have been entranced by Kenneth Thomson's plan to donate thousands of works of art worth millions of dollars to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Thomson's eldest son, 46-year-old David Kenneth Roy Thomson, has quietly been making his own substantial gifts to the Toronto institution. These donations, most of which have yet to be seen by the public, are helping to propel the gallery to the front ranks internationally, as well as serving as portents, perhaps, of greater things to come.
In its 2001 annual report, the AGO said it had a total of 26,557 artifacts in its permanent collection. For the 2003-2004 fiscal year that ended March 31, it's expected it will report a permanent collection of close to 40,000 objects -- an increase of 51 per cent in three years. Much of this can be attributed to the generosity of Thomson the Younger who, like his multi-billionaire father, is a passionate, informed collector of fine art and, unlike his father, has a decidedly eclectic aesthetic that embraces everything from Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly abstracts to Stanley Spencer figurative works, John Constable landscapes and Peanuts cartoons by Charles Schulz.
Indeed, in 2002, Thomson made a gift to the AGO of one Spencer painting, plus an additional 64 works on paper by the tormented British artist. Another, more recent gift has consisted of dozens of historical Australian Aboriginal artifacts -- what the AGO in its literature is now hyping as "the most significant collection of its kind outside Australia."
It's in the realm of photography, however, that the notoriously press-shy David Thomson (who became chair of Thomson Corp. in May, 2002. Thomson has a 20-per-cent stake in Bell Globemedia, parent company of The Globe and Mail) seems to be making his most salient contribution. In 2002-2003, for instance, he donated an astonishing 9,237 vintage prints by such German photographers as Alfred Eisenstaedt (700 prints of his alone), John Gutmann, Felix H. Man and Willi Ruge, all of them shot before the Second World War and likely worth in the tens of millions of dollars in total.
More recently, he donated 975 vintage photographs by Czech master Josef Sudek (1896-1976), the Czech bookbinder who, after losing his right arm in the First World War, took up photography and became one of the medium's masters. These days, it's not uncommon for a vintage Sudek silver-gelatin print to sell for $2,000 to $6,000 (U.S.), so even at the conservative end of the spectrum the Thomson gift is likely worth around $1.5-million to $2-million. And that's not all: Last year, the Thomson family donated what Maia-Mari Sutnik, the AGO's associate curator of photography, calls "a very poignant collection of photo albums from the First World War," almost 500 in total, containing more than 50,000 images.
Ontarians will have an opportunity to glimpse some of David Thomson's largesse Wednesday evening when Sutnik talks about some of the gallery's recent photographic acquisitions. Perhaps unsurprisingly , in the new AGO, to which David Thomson's father is contributing $70-million for its construction and upkeep, the space available to photography exhibitions will increase by 240 per cent.There was a flurry of excitement earlier this week in Canadian broadcasting circles as rumours circulated that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was about to announce whether it would allow Canadians to access, via digital cable and satellite, the Al-Jazeera Arabic-language network from Dubai and RAI, the Italian public broadcaster. Now, with an election virtually certain to occur in June, the decision is likely going to be made public in the waning days of June or at the start of July. Whatever the CRTC decides is going to be controversial -- something it seems to realize since it's been mulling over the applications since February, 2003 -- but at present it's anticipated the broadcast regulator will okay Al-Jazeera (which will irk Canada's Jewish community) and nix RAI (which will irk some of the 1.4-million Canadians who claim Italian descent).