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Empowerment and Beauty

Prominent Toronto art collector Dr. Kenneth Montague invites us into his home to pay tribute to Harlem Renaissance legend James Van Der Zee.


Kenneth Montague

Couple in Raccoon Coats, 1932. Photographer:  James Van Der Zee, © Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee.

2020 marks the AGO Photography Department’s 20 year anniversary, and we’re celebrating the image of excellence it has become. For the remainder of the year,  we will share stories and insights about the monumental works that comprise the collection and the curators and collectors making it all possible.

This week, AGO Board Member, dentist and prominent art collector, Dr. Kenneth Montague, welcomes us into his Toronto home to discuss the important work of Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee


Couple in Raccoon Coats, 1932. Photographer:  James Van Der Zee, © Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee.

Focusing on a cherished Van Der Zee print from his collection, one currently on view at the AGO, he describes a childhood trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts where he first encountered the work. For Montague, Van Der Zee’s photography resonates so widely because “it’s about empowerment, and it’s about beauty, and it’s about showing people at their best”– an ethos that has similarly defined Montague’s journey as an art collector.

He goes on to provide fascinating insight about some other pieces from his collection, including a photograph by Malian photographer Seydou Keita, and another by Black-British photographer Vanley Burke. Take a look below, and stay tuned as we continue to celebrate 20 years of the AGO’s Photography Department.

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