Architect pledges $750,000 art collection to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

A retired Victoria architect has pledged his $750,000 art collection to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Philanthropist Andrew Beckerman will also donate $100,000 to the Moss Street gallery for its proposed expansion — provided other donors match the sum, the AGGV announced Thursday.

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In addition, the gallery has received two other anonymous pledges of $500,000 and $200,000. These come with the proviso they be matched by provincial funding, director Jon Tupper said.

Beckerman is a 69-year-old Brooklyn native who lived in San Francisco and Santa Fe before immigrating to Canada 11 years ago.

He said his art collection, with hundreds of items, includes paintings by such notable San Francisco artists as Joan Brown, William T. Wiley and Roy De Forest.

“These are all artists that hang in most major American museums that handle contemporary art,” Beckerman said.

His collection also features Japanese woodblock prints, indigenous artworks from New Mexico (including pre-Columbian pottery), and bronze and stone sculptures.

The AGGV plans to add a 12,000-square-foot, three-storey addition to the existing 41,000-square-foot gallery. This expansion, costing almost $24 million, would replace an existing single-floor extension to the Spencer mansion.

Tupper said the gallery is still awaiting word on its $7-million grant application to the provincial government. “Shovels will be in the ground in September if we hear from the province soon,” he said.

Beckerman said he’s willing to immediately give half of his collection to the AGGV.

However, Tupper said this will have to happen after the gallery’s expansion because the storage space is now too small.

“There is no intention of selling the works. They will be a unique collection within the context of the gallery’s broader holdings of important art,” Tupper said.

The latest donations follow November’s announcement that Vancouver philanthropist Michael Audain has pledged $2 million to the AGGV. Both Beckerman and Audain say the gallery is in dire need of expansion.

“You go down to the storage area and you can just see the exposed rock that’s getting in the way of storing a lot of work,” Beckerman said.

Beckerman said he’s donating because he believes strongly in exposing the public to art. When he was a child in Brooklyn, his family took regular trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.

“We couldn’t afford a movie. But we could afford to go, on a family fare, to an art museum,” he said. “It sparked my interest as a child. Being exposed to art at a very young age had a life-long effect on me.”

Beckerman trained as an architect at the University of California, Berkeley. Much of his architectural career involved designing home modifications for physically handicapped people in conjunction with charitable organizations. He made money building houses in California and once ran a small hotel in Santa Fe.

A long-time activist for the AIDS/HIV movement, Beckerman is a former chairperson of AIDS Vancouver Island.

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