Agnes focuses on portraits

Gallery screens Patron Saint as part of ArtDocs initiative 

The five paintings in the exhibition The First Five, the winners of the Kingston Prize.
Selfies, grad portraits, insta-snaps — it seems that portraits are everywhere, and the Agnes Centre is capitalizing on this rising interest in portraiture and its role in the art world.
 
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre has captured this interest in portraits through their film screening of Patron Saint, as part of their ArtDocs series. This ArtDocs screening was tied into the Agnes’ current exhibition The First Five: Portraits from The Kingston Prize and the upcoming exhibition Singular Figures: Portraits and Character Studies in Northern Baroque Painting
 
The Agnes hosted a screening of Patron Saint, a documentary about the prolific portraiture collection of art collector and artist Janusz Dukszta, to accompany The First Five exhibition. 
 
The film, directed by Michael Kainer, explores the development of Dukszta’s obsession with portraiture, his relationship with burgeoning young artists and his contribution as a generous benefactor of the arts. 
 
Kainer’s film presents a view of Dukszta’s life from his days in Poland to his early interest in portraiture. The film also examines the relationships between Dukszta and the artists who worked with  individual interviews. Dukszta’s role as a patron of art and these relationships were represented in an exhibition of Dukszta’s extensive portraiture collection at the University of Toronto Art Centre, titled Portrait of a Patron.  
 
The Agnes’ ArtDocs series of documentary screenings takes place Thursday evenings throughout the year and was developed in 2006 along with the Agnes’ Thursday late nights. The Agnes’ public programs manager, Patricia Sullivan, hopes to reach a wide audience through these film screenings. 
 
“By being open late on Thursday evenings, we hope to reach working adults who can’t visit the Agnes during the day and have little time on weekends,” she said.
 
“I think ArtDocs reaches a wide audience — those interested in art, those interested in film, students, members of the Kingston community.” 
 
Sullivan is responsible for carefully choosing a topical film for each screening.
 
“I start with our exhibition line-up, studying the content of the art and thinking of related themes. Then I research new documentaries, by consulting the websites of distributors like Mongrel Media, or checking out the programs at important events like Canadian Art’s Reel Out Artists Film Festival, held each winter in Toronto,” Sullivan said. 
 
“I also read reviews of documentaries. I try to align the films with our current exhibitions, or with an aspect of our 
broad collection.” 
 
Patron Saint, for instance, was chosen for its connection to The First Five, an exhibition in the Atrium of the Agnes until December that highlights the first five winners of the Kingston Prize, a biennial Canada-wide portrait competition that began in 2005.
 
Kainer, the film’s director and former Toronto lawyer, met Dukszta through his work in the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto. 
 
At the time, Dukszta was both a well-known psychiatrist in Parkdale and an elected NDP Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in the Parkdale riding. Dukszta began his portrait collection in 1953 with a simple profile sketch, and went on to commission over 90 portraits from a variety of mainly young, non-established artists. 
 
The sheer size of Dukszta’s collection and his hands-off approach resulted in a collection that goes beyond his life and becomes a small representation of the history of contemporary portraiture through the variety of styles, artists and themes in the collection. 
 
Some of Dukszta’s commissions have invited criticism, however.  
 
The collector has been criticized for commissioning both a piece that depicted him as the great artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpting the “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” and a portrait depicting him as a viewer in a biblical scene, which some commentators found egotistical.  
 
Patron Saint explores depictions of Dukszta through a discussion with Phil Richards, a Toronto-based artist from whom Dukszta commissioned several of his most well-known portraits. 
 
Richards said Dukszta has been misrepresented as egotistical, as the portrait commissions weren’t only about representing the art collector. 
 
They are also a precedent for discussion with interesting individuals, he said, and the portraiture collection is a way for Dukszta to maintain an engaging presence and involvement in art. 
 
In addition to the relationships established through his portrait commissions, Dukszta has established a reputation as a patron of art. 
 
Kainer insists throughout his documentary that Dukszta should be admired as a patron of art for his support of young, burgeoning artists. 
 
His prolific portraiture collection has maintained the importance of fine art in Canada and has kept portraiture relevant in a contemporary discussion of art, Kainer argues.
 
Sullivan said these ArtDocs screenings help engage a wide audience of students and working individuals through an entertaining medium. 
 
“I think ArtDocs is important because good documentaries offer illuminating perspectives,” she said. 
 
“A documentary can provide social and historical context that enriches our understanding of an artist, an art movement or an issue in the area of art and museums. Film is another medium for learning.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.