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Untitled (Orfeo) by Guilio Paolini of Italy is among the works donated to the AGO by Ydessa Hendeles. ((Art Gallery of Ontario) )

Ydessa Hendeles, founder of the Ydessa Gallery and a significant collector of contemporary art through her art foundation, has donated 32 works to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Toronto-based gallery says it is the most significant gift of contemporary art in the 110-year history of the AGO.

Hendeles has played a role in bringing Canadian contemporary artists to international attention, including Kim Adams, Liz Magor, Ken Lum and John McEwen, whose works are among the collection she is donating to the gallery.

The Hendeles gift also adds works by:

  • James Coleman of Ireland.
  • Gary Hill of the U.S.
  • Thomas Schutte of Germany.
  • Bill Viola of the U.S.
  • Krzysztof Wodiczko of Poland.
  • Giulio Paolini of Italy.
  • Ian Carr-Harris of Toronto.
  • Betty Goodwin of Montreal.
  • Ron Martin of London, Ont.
  • Ian Wallace of Vancouver.

AGO chief executive Matthew Teitelbaum said the gift "boldly augments the art we hold in the public trust."

"It adds key works by significant Canadian artists who are important voices in our time, and highlights the many ways that artists use media to create their identity," he said in a statement released Thursday.

Hendeles is a  member of the AGO board of trustees and founder of the Toronto-based Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, a privately funded exhibition space for contemporary art. She has been curating and mounting exhibition program from works in her collection for the last 22 years.

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Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place, an audio-video, closed-loop installation for 16 black-and-white TV tubes by Gary Hill of the U.S., is also among the works donated. ((Art Gallery of Ontario))

The daughter of parents who survived the Holocaust, Hendeles came to Canada after the Second World War and grew up in Toronto. She recalls visiting the AGO with her parents as an important part of her early life.

Her father became affluent in real estate and she became an art historian and curator.

'Art is a civilizing force'

She founded the Ydessa Gallery, a commercial contemporary art gallery, and operated it from 1980 to 1988.

As her collection grew, she opened the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation to the public and it became a forum to advance the cause of contemporary art in Canada.

"My ongoing goal has been to integrate the works of Canadian artists in the context of the international art community. Art bypasses that which is socially acceptable. It helps us live our lives by giving expression to what we cannot do or say. In this way, art is a civilizing force," she said in a statement.

She has been generous in the past, donating works such as Rebecca Horn's The Yellow-Black Race of the Pigments, Barbara Kruger's Untitled (Jam Life into Death) and Kim Adams's Decoy Homes to the AGO.

The AGO plans to exhibit the new collection within the next 18 months.