The old chestnut about portraiture — that business about the subject’s eyes following you around the room — is magnified at the University of Toronto Art Centre’s Portrait of a Patron. It consists of a cross-section of former local politician and avid art collector Janusz Dukszta’s massive collection: portraits of him, in various media. Everywhere you look in the impressive, sprawling show, you’re met by Dukszta’s gaze.
Guest curator Gordon Hatt talks of using Dukszta’s collection to demonstrate how he turned his life into a work of art. That’s on eminent display here, but it’s perhaps the least interesting aspect of the show. What saves this show from being a laughably indulgent exercise in egomania is the way Dukszta himself has curated his shopping habits over the years.
Through his nigh-compulsive art patronage, Dukszta has assembled a very thorough biography of the Toronto art scene. Swirling around the pictorial anchor of Dukszta’s likeness (and deftly organized by Hatt) is a fairly comprehensive survey of 40 years of Toronto art: early works by Stephen Andrews, Andy Fabo, Oliver Girling (a particular standout) and the ChromaZone collective, Charles Pachter, newer work by Evan Penny, Patrick DeCoste and a host of others.
Phil Richards is particularly highlighted; Dukszta and he have had a long artist/patron relationship, and it’s fascinating to watch Richard’s style shift, if not always grow; he’s certainly an eminently capable, fluid painter, although throughout the ‘80s, he seems to have checked his taste at the door (then again, it wasn’t the most tasteful decade for anyone).
So it’s not all uniformly good by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s unfair to single out Richards – if anything, there are great chunks of the show that inadvertently reveal how derivative and downright hackneyed some artists were (the influence of New York and London hangs like a heavy cloud over some rooms).
Nevertheless, the show is far more than the sum of its parts. Not only is it possibly the best survey of a school of Toronto art produced in recent years (and thus, highly instructive and engaging), it showcases the particular talents of Dukszta himself. He says, in a small video that accompanies the show, that he’s useless at art. Among other things, this show demonstrates just how valuable, for the sake of a city’s history if nothing else, are the skills of an excellent patron.
Portrait of a Patron ran at the University of Toronto Art Centre until March 13.