Membership really has its privileges.
Just ask ROM’s Royal Patrons Circle, some of whose members embarked on an art safari earlier this month – inside a house Behind a house with a graffiti-painted back facing railway tracks somewhere south of Eglinton West, amid the sloping streets of Caledonia-Fairbanks. There, in one of the city’s most unlikely homes, housing one of Toronto’s greatest collections of modern art, stood a beaming man in a Dodgers T-shirt.
“I remember my mom took me to ROM,” businessman David Angelo began to tell the rosé-drinking museum junkies before letting them stroll through his home, which doubles as a mini-museum with its gallery-high ceilings.
Growing up in “a low-income area of Toronto with no art and culture,” as he later explains to me, Angelo’s artistic memory is limited to a landscape print purchased at Eaton’s, hung high on a wall. But his mother made sure to take Angelo and his sister to both ROM and AGO, thus lighting a match. “The more I looked” – for example at a certain sculpture – “I realized that I could spend time with my own thoughts.”
And though he eventually strayed into the corporate world—he’s held senior positions at General Electric and KPMG, and served on the boards of associations like the Canadian Aerospace Council—the art bug lingered. He has been collecting for over 30 years.
Me, me and eye
His collection is all the more remarkable considering Angelo was born color blind. “I’m not influenced by the colors incorporated into the work,” he says. “For me it’s more mood and composition. Looking back, it wouldn’t be surprising that Francis Bacon was my first art crush – the tones, the darkness, resonated with me.”
While the way his artwork is displayed throughout the home — covering nearly every wall and nook, including in the massive gymnasium — might at first appear cavalier, even haphazard, this is deceptive. “Each piece relates to each other and to me,” he says. “It’s important that each piece has dialogue and harmony.” Angelo’s partner Helen, he says, “is very color sensitive, which helps when we think about the relationship between works, a factor I’ve tended to avoid in the past .”
When I ask him what guides his purchases, he replies, “I’ve never been lukewarm about anything I collect. it has to move me make me. I have to spend restless nights thinking about it before I own it.”
bit by bit
His two latest purchases? Polar opposites, Angelo notes. The first, a lithograph entitled ‘Remembering the Treason Trial’ by renowned artist William Kentridge, consists of 63 panels depicting a tree from 1890s South African mining handbooks. The title refers to a 1956 trial of Nelson Mandela, in which he was successfully defended by Kentridge’s father. The piece originally belonged to Angelo’s friend Aaron Milrad and was displayed in the lobby of the Toronto law firm where Milrad worked. Angelo got his hands on it when he retired.
The other is a sculpture by Sami Tsang, an emerging Chinese-Canadian ceramic artist. Her work, recently shown at the Gardner Museum, reflects what Angelo describes as “the metamorphosis of one who sheds traditional beliefs and expectations for personal growth”.
Another recent work prominently displayed is by Cree master Kent Monkman, one of Canada’s greatest living artists. “I’m blessed that his studio is only 300 meters away,” says Angelo. “I fell in love with her straight away. It is one of his portrait series of works. All portraits use the sitter’s name to ensure their identity is remembered as much as the image itself.” Angelo is loaning the painting for the big Monkman exhibition en route to ROM in October.
If there’s one thing Angelo is just as passionate about, it’s baseball. The two worlds collide in his appreciation for George Sosnak, a minor league Florida umpire turned folk artist who created brilliant paintings on baseballs after World War II. “I love the physical and mental aspects of the game,” says Angelo.
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