Prominent Canadian art dealer Av Isaacs has died at 89 in Toronto, where for decades he championed a sizable stable of cutting-edge artists that at various times included Michael Snow, William Kurelek, Jack Chambers and Joyce Wieland. "He ran out of life" was how his partner of 30 years, former TV producer Donnalu Wigmore, described his passing which occurred Friday morning at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Born Avrom Isaacovitch March 19, 1926, in north Winnipeg, he moved with his family to Toronto in 1941. Graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in political science and economics, he went on to share an apartment with the painter Graham Coughtry (1931-1999), whom Mr. Isaacs later represented as a dealer. In 1950, he opened a picture-framing and art-supply shop in downtown Toronto in a district known as "Greenwich Village," home to the city's bohemian set. The store became a hangout for scenemakers, Mr. Isaacs' artist friends and students from the nearby Ontario College of Art, prompting a move, in 1955, to a Bay Street location near Gerrard Street West and the creation of the Greenwich Gallery.
Yet another move occurred in 1961, to a large, white-walled space just north of Bloor Street West on the city's main north-south thoroughfare, Yonge Street. Mr. Isaacs named it the Isaacs Gallery, and from there he ruled as the leading dealer in contemporary Canadian art for the next 25 years – longer, if one includes the moves he made between 1986, when he departed Yonge Street, and 2001, when he retired. Besides being a visual-art showcase, the Isaacs Gallery became something of a cultural community centre, hosting music performances, literary readings, talks, rallies, mixed-media events. Mr. Isaacs also developed a taste for Inuit art, mounting his first exhibition of it in 1967 and three years later founding the Innuit Gallery, "the first gallery in the world devoted solely to the sale of Inuit art."
Mr. Isaacs had bouts of ill health in the last 15 years, resulting in two knee replacements and quadruple bypass heart surgery. His "last big art hurrah," according to Ms. Wigmore, occurred last August when he attended a ceremony in Stonewall, Man., honouring the town's most famous son, the painter Mr. Kurelek (1927-1977), whom Mr. Isaacs first hired as a framer for his art-supply store.