Traditionally, a public gallery collects original fine art in order to have a variety of works of art which can act as an educational resource and from which exhibitions can be organized. A public gallery acquires the highest quality of work in the areas of collecting interest, usually through purchase or donation. It should have operating policies about its collection, provide care for it physically, conduct research about it, add to it appropriately and use it in a responsible way. A gallery's collection is a public legacy reflecting a country or province's artistic development, and is held in trust for the future. As a public gallery, all this applies to the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The complete body of art at the AGNL is comprised of the Memorial University Permanent Collection begun in 1961, the J. K. Pratt Memorial Collection established by Christopher Pratt in 1986, and the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador Collection established in 1994. Together they are simply known as the "Permanent Collections" and number over 4,000 works of art.
The Memorial University Permanent Collection is primarily post-1960 Canadian art with a special focus on Newfoundland and Labrador. The J. K. Pratt Memorial Collection is comprised mainly of works by Christopher Pratt. The AGNL Collection continues the mandate of the Memorial University Permanent Collection, with the addition of historical art of certain kinds.
Because of current space restrictions, most of the works in these collections are either in storage or on loan to the Memorial University campus, but there is an on-going selection from the "Permanent Collections" on display in the gallery.
The "Permanent Collections" have been built using public funds through Memorial University of Newfoundland, through charitable donations of art and money and, recently through Acquisition Assistance grants from The Canada Council for the Arts. They include many examples of traditional art media such as oil painting, water-based painting (acrylic, watercolour), printmaking (etching, woodcut, lithography, serigraphy), drawing (pencil, ink, pastel, charcoal) and sculpture (welded metal, stone, carved wood, wall reliefs and assemblages). Photography, some indigenous crafts (hooked rugs, Labrador grasswork), and experimental media, such as neon tubing, innovative textiles and papermaking, installation and site-specific art, are also represented.
Currently, collecting priorities for the AGNL flow from its role as the major public gallery in the province and as a part of the Canadian cultural community, from its commitment to the art of Newfoundland and Labrador, and from the foundation provided by the Memorial University's original collection. The AGNL works within an Acquisitions and Collections Management Policy adopted by its Board in 1996. When adding to the collections, the gallery has to take into account the available storage and handling space and the potential for use of works for research, education and public exhibition.
The AGNL acquires works of art by purchase, trade or donation in line with the following considerations:
An annual 'wish list' of acquisitions that would contribute to the quality of the collections is developed by the AGNL director and gallery staff, then presented to the Acquisitions Committee, which is made up of an AGNL board member, the director, an artist, a corporate collector, and a private collector from the community. Works are assessed under criteria of quality, relevance to the collections, authenticity, condition, cost or terms of donation, etc.
With over 4,000 works of art in the collection, it is hard to pick out particular ones for highlighting. However, it should be noted that the AGNL has major holdings of senior artists who have contributed to the development of art here such as Mary Pratt, Gerald Squires, Reginald and Helen Parsons Shepherd, Don Wright and Anne Meredith Barry. With its Christopher Pratt drawings, his complete print works and hundreds of studies, the AGNL is an important centre of research on Pratt's work. In keeping with links to St. Michael's Printshop, it has a strong representation of contemporary Canadian fine art prints, and will continue to be a major public collector of historical art about Newfoundland and Labrador.
In short, the "Permanent Collections" at the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador continue to form an enduring record of the ideas, concerns, skills and vision of artists who reflect their own aesthetics, communities and time. These works of art are a source of public learning and enjoyment, now and for the future.