Obituary: Joey Tanenbaum’s donations changed the face of the Art Gallery of Hamilton


The Art Gallery of Hamilton owes a debt of gratitude to the late Max Tanenbaum. Because it was he who motivated his son Joseph (Joey) to become a famous art collector.

Joey Tanenbaum – who died on May 11 in Toronto aged 89 – bought a painting of children playing with rabbits in 1964 after his wife, Toby, suggested they have art in their home.

Shortly after, his father called him into his office.

“He says, ‘No. 2 (he always called him #2 because he was the second son of seven siblings), are you my son? “, Tanenbaum told The Spec in 2015. “And I said, ‘Yes, Dad,’ and he said, ‘Because how could my son spend a hundred dollars on paint and paint? oil ?

He said he slammed the door as he left and called Toby. He told her that they were about to become art collectors.

“To spite the old man, it’s true,” Tanenbaum said. “True story.”

The result was that the Art Gallery of Hamilton received donations of 19th century European, African and Oceanic art from Tanenbaum between 2001 and 2012.

It totaled 400 pieces at a time, was valued at over $100 million, and was the envy of AGH galleries around the world, including the Louvre in Paris. Louvre curator Jacques Foucart once said that if his gallery owned Tanenbaum’s European collection, it would “certainly” arouse surprise and interest.

The Art Gallery of Hamilton said Tanenbaum’s donations represented one of the most significant chapters in its history since its founding in 1914.

In 2015, Tanenbaum endowed a new position as Curator of European Art at AGH, a commitment of $75,000 per year for 20 years.

“The Art Gallery of Hamilton is deeply saddened by the passing of Joey Tanenbaum, one of the nation’s most generous philanthropists,” the AGH said in a statement.

“With his deep commitment to the art and his unwavering dedication to our mission and the City of Hamilton, Joey has been integral to the significant growth of our institution. His legacy will live on through the AGH’s collection, exhibitions and programs for generations to come.

On May 18, International Museum Day, the AGH presented a selection of the 317 pieces from the Tanenbaum collection. He has also donated to the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery.

Joey Tanenbarum was born in September 1932 to Max and Anne Tanenbaum. Her grandfather, Abraham, came to Canada from Poland in 1911 with just $8. He became a scrap dealer and eventually founded the Runnymede Iron and Steel Co. in the 1920s. His father, Max, founded York Steel in the early 1950s.

Tanenbaum worked as a laborer at Runnymede and eventually founded Jay-M Holdings, a real estate company. York Steel bought the Bridge and Tank steelmaking business in Hamilton in 1971 and Tannenbaurm served as chairman and chief executive from 1975 until 1983 when it was sold. He commuted between Toronto and Hamilton and is a former member of the Hamilton Club.

Tanenbaum began donating artwork in the 1980s to declutter his home, but more importantly to reduce the debt of the family business through tax breaks. He finally eliminated the debt.

He said he chose AGH because he got along well with top executives like Louise Dompierre, Shirley Madill and Shelley Falconer. The gallery received its first major donation in 2002 and hired police to escort the 211 works from Toronto.

He told The Spectator he also favored Hamilton because Dofasco helped his grandfather get his business off the ground in 1917 by doing business with him. Others didn’t want to work with him because he was Jewish.

“We can never forgive this,” Tanenbaum said.

In 2000, he and his wife were named Philanthropist of the Year by the National Society of FundRaising Executives. McMaster University awarded honorary law degrees to Joey and Toby Tanenbaum in 2015. Mac President Patrick Deane called them “two of the nation’s most generous and influential philanthropists.”

Tanenbaum is survived by his wife, Toby, five children and four grandchildren. His mother, Anne, died in 2008 at age 99. Her father, Max, died in 1983.


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