Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) Announces Auction of Artworks to Fund Endowment for Contemporary Art

Art Windsor-Essex
8 min readMar 27, 2024


Rare work by Paul Kane and Andy Warhol’s portrait of Wayne Gretzky go up for auction with Cowley Abbott on May 30

Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) announced details of a new endowment fund to support the care and diversification of AWE’s collection. To establish funds for this endowment, AWE will be deaccessioning select works of art that will go up for public sale by Canadian auction house, Cowley Abbott, as part of their annual Spring Live Auction of Important Canadian & International Art on Thursday, May 30, 2024.

Deaccessioning is the process of removing a work of art from a museum’s collection. Regular deaccessioning is standard and best practice in collections management and allows museums to refine their holdings to ensure the highest standards of care are maintained.

“Art Windsor-Essex has joined many other Canadian art galleries and museums in reviewing and evaluating its collection. We recognize the value that this collection holds and how important it is that AWE cares for it responsibly. We also know that art has the power to transform, empower, and heal, and that power is most effective when the art is relevant to the lives of the people viewing it. We look forward to stewarding the collection into a new era that celebrates the diversity of Windsor-Essex,” says Melinda Munro, AWE Board President.

Select works undergoing deaccession include a rare Paul Kane oil on canvas, Party of Indians in Two Canoes on Mountain Lake (1846/1848) and an Andy Warhol portrait of Wayne Gretzky (n.d.).

Renowned for his colourful images of celebrity icons in pop culture, Warhol began painting sports subjects as early as 1977. He met ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky at the height of his NHL career for a portrait session in New York City in 1983 to create a series of six portraits, one of which was purchased by Gretzky himself.

Previews of these works from the Art Windsor-Essex collection along with select highlights in the Spring Auction will be available for early viewing at the Cowley Abbott Gallery, 326 Dundas St W, Toronto, from April 13 to 17 before full previewing begins in May. A selection of the remaining deaccessioned works will also go on view at AWE between April 3 and May 26. The live auction takes place in-person at the Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto on Thursday, May 30 at 7pm ET, with live stream and online bidding at Cowley Abbott will donate their selling commission of the deaccessioned AWE works toward the fund.

“We are thrilled to represent Art Windsor Essex and contribute to the care, diversity and representation of their collection through the artwork sale and donation of our selling commission to support the establishment of this important endowment fund. Cowley Abbott has demonstrated strong results with the sale of Paul Kane and Andy Warhol artworks, and we are eager to share these pieces with art lovers across Canada and globally,” says Rob Cowley, President, Cowley Abbott.

Deaccessioned works were selected by AWE’s curatorial and executive team, in collaboration with AWE’s External Affairs Committee and Board of Directors, following extensive external and internal reviews of AWE’s holdings. Funds raised for the endowment will be solely used for the care and diversification of AWE’s collection, with particular focus on the work of Indigenous and equity-deserving artists with ties to the Windsor-Essex region.

“As a pilar of our 2021–2025 Strategic Plan, transformation is a key part of the next stage of AWE’s development. We recognize that the gallery has been supported by this community for nearly 80 years, and the 4,000+ works in the collection should be more reflective of the community that supports it. The proceeds of this sale will be used to acquire works by artists whose perspectives resonate with the people of Windsor-Essex. We’re excited to commit to this step forward in AWE’s collecting priorities so we can continue to create change through the power of art.” — Jennifer Matotek, Executive Director

AWE will also hold a community conversation open to the public on the subject of deaccessioning, with panelists Rob Cowley, President of Cowley Abbott and Canadian Art Specialist; Trishtina Godoy-Comtois, Athabasca University; and Emily McKibbon, Head, Exhibitions and Collection, Art Windsor-Essex. Free to attend, the conversation will take place on the evening of April 18th at 6:30pm at Art Windsor-Essex (401 Riverside W. Windsor, ON).

About Art Windsor-Essex (AWE)

Established in 1943, AWE is the largest public art gallery in Southwestern Ontario and has grown with incredible support from the Windsor-Essex community. For over 75 years, AWE has experienced great change — in leadership, our collection, and our address. With every adaptation, we keep getting better at what we do: inspiring growth through the power of art. At AWE, we share historical Canadian, Indigenous, and contemporary art with the Windsor-Essex community in inventive and creative ways. Through our activities, we spark creativity and conversations, and educate and engage. With 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, new takes on our collection of nearly 4,000 artworks, and through unexpected partnerships, AWE is the creative heart of Windsor-Essex. At Art-Windsor Essex, change happens here.

About Cowley Abbott
Since its inception in 2013, Cowley Abbott’s live and online auctions have included headline-grabbing works that regularly smash auction records. Cowley Abbott has rapidly grown to be a leader in today’s competitive Canadian auction industry, with a dual gallery in downtown Toronto and representatives across Canada. Cowley Abbott’s effective set of services marry the traditional methods of promoting artwork with technology and innovative means to connect collectors with artwork of rarity and quality. Recently Cowley Abbott hosted three monumental auctions of artwork from an Important Private Collection, setting a record for the highest grossing private collection of artwork ever sold at auction in Canada.

Land Acknowledgment

Art Windsor-Essex respectfully acknowledges that we are located on Anishinaabe Territory — the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy of First Nations, comprised of the Ojibway, the Odawa, and the Potawatomi. Today the Anishinaabe of the Three Fires Confederacy are represented by Bkejwanong. We want to state our respect for the ancestral and ongoing authority of Walpole Island First Nation over its Territory.

Deaccessioning Frequently Asked Questions


Simply put, AWE cannot achieve the goal of diversifying our collection holdings if we are relying on donations.

When institutions like AWE rely on private collectors to build a public collection, it means that we are responding to specific donation opportunities rather than choosing artworks from an open market. While private collectors are beginning to collect more artwork by diverse artists, the commercial art market tends to lag behind public art galleries in promoting the work of diverse artists. By purchasing work directly from artists and their galleries, AWE is doing our part to build a sustainable and equitable arts ecosystem in our region and beyond.


Deaccessioning is the process of removing a work of art from a museum’s permanent collection. The museum continues to legally own the work after it has been deaccessioned until the work is disposed of through select methods (see below). Regular deaccessioning is best practice in collections management and allows museums to refine their holdings and ensure the highest standards of collections care and display are maintained.


Deaccessioning is driven by institutional policy and industry best practices.1 Our approach is led by AWE’s Board-Governed Institutional Policies Manual, in particular our Curatorial Policies (3.iii.a). A work is considered for deaccessioning if:

  • it is irrelevant to the Collection;
  • it is of poor quality and beyond restoration;
  • it is a duplicate in the Collection (i.e. prints);
  • it is a copy, forgery, or reproduction of no documentary or archival value;
  • it is under-used;
  • it poses a potential health and safety risk;
  • it is revealed that the institution does not legally own the object;
  • the gallery is unable to properly store or maintain it.

Works shortlisted and ratified by AWE’s Executive Director for deaccessioning are presented to the External Affairs Committee and then to the Board of Directors for review. The External Affairs committee review the works, deaccession rationales prepared by AWE staff, and recommended disposal methods, and makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board reviews the Committee recommendation and the work undertaken by staff to support the deaccession, and makes a final decision, via a Board motion, on how to proceed.


No. Works are not selected for deaccessioning based on their value. However, the value of a deaccessioned work can be a factor in how it is handled after deaccessioning. AWE’s most recent deaccession strategy includes the decision to sell some works by public auction and to transfer other works to colleague institutions.


Works can be disposed of in one of the following ways:

  • Transfer/sale at fair market value to other public institutions
  • Transfer as donation to other public institutions
  • Public sale through reputable vendors or at auction
  • In very rare cases (i.e. for works with significant conservation concerns or that pose health risks) works may be permanently destroyed

Donors of works selected to be disposed via auction are individually notified to let them know of our decision. All efforts are made to ensure that the donors’ generosity continues to be recognized in a tangible, public way.

The public will also be made aware of all works being deaccessioned, with select works being displayed in a “final look” exhibition for viewing.


The Canadian Museums Association has strict guidelines on deaccessioning, including how funds raised from deaccessioning might be used. In line with industry best practices, AWE will use all proceeds from deaccessioning for acquisitions and direct collections care. Proceeds will be placed in a restricted endowment fund, with the interest used to support collections care and diversification, in line with AWE’s Board-Governed Policies. AWE’s audited annual statements will include reporting on this restricted endowment fund. Audited statements are presented at AWE’s Annual General Meeting and are made publicly available on our website afterwards.


Many institutions undergo significant changes throughout their lifetimes. Professional practices within a field also change significantly over time. When AWE first opened, we were in a historic house and our collection included many items we no longer collect today, including furniture and decorative objects. As the gallery has matured, our mandate has developed accordingly and some of these items no longer align with AWE’s mission or objectives.

AWE remains enormously grateful to the community members who have donated objects and artworks to our collection, even if those items no longer fit within our collections scope. We feel that the original intention of these donors is not served by keeping these items hidden within our vaults. By removing these items and making them available for sale, AWE is raising funds for a restricted endowment fund to support new purchases to reflect our mission and mandate, and the future needs of AWE’s audiences. These new acquisitions will help strengthen the collection. They will also allow the original donors’ legacies to manifest in different ways over a longer time.


AWE will work with impacted donors to ensure that the credit lines for deaccessioned works are transferred to new artworks purchased with deaccessioning funds.


Yes. AWE has previously deaccessioned works from the collection that do not align with collecting mandates. Approximately 350 works have been deaccessioned throughout AWE’s history, with many pieces being disposed through public auctions. The last large deaccession occurred in the 1980s.




Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas. Change happens here.