The home of art collector David Angelo looks like a museum

Membership does have its privileges.

Just ask the Royal Circle of ROM Patrons, some of whose members embarked on an art safari earlier this month – in a house behind a house, its railroad tracks adorned with wall graffiti, somewhere south of Eglinton West, amid the steep streets of Caledonia-Fairbanks. There, in one of the city’s most unlikely houses, containing one of Toronto’s greatest collections of modern art, stood a beaming man in a Dodgers t-shirt.

“I remember my mom taking me to the ROM,” businessman David Angelo began telling junkies at the rosé museum, before letting them wander through his home, which doubles as a mini- museum, with high ceilings.

Growing up in “a low-income Toronto neighborhood devoid of art and culture,” as he later explained to me, all Angelo remembers artistically is a landscape, bought at Eaton’s, hung high on a wall. But his mother made sure to take Angelo and his sister to the ROM and the AGO, thus lighting a match. “The more I looked” – one sculpture in particular, for example – “I noticed that I was able to spend time with my own thoughts.”

And though he eventually ventured into the corporate world – he held executive positions at General Electric and KPMG and served on the boards of associations like the Canadian Aerospace Council. – the virus of art remained. He has been collecting for over 30 years.

Me, myself and my eye

His collection is all the more remarkable as Angelo was born colorblind. “I’m not influenced by the colors incorporated into the work,” he says. “For me, it’s more about the atmosphere and the composition. Looking back, it wouldn’t be surprising if my first crush on art was Francis Bacon – the tones, the darkness resonated with me.

While the way his works are displayed throughout the house – covering nearly every wall and nook, including the huge gym – might at first seem carefree, even haphazard, it’s deceiving. “Each piece relates to each other and to me,” he says. “It is important that each piece dialogue and harmonize.” Angelo’s partner, Helen, he says, “is very sensitive to color, which helps when we consider the relationship of the works, a factor I tended to avoid in the past.”

When I ask him what guides his purchases, he replies: “I’ve never been lukewarm about what I collect. it must move me, do me. I need to spend restless nights thinking about it before I buy it.

Room by room

Angelo's kitchen is one of many art-filled rooms.

His last two acquisitions? Polar opposites, notes Angelo. The first, a lithograph entitled “Remembering the Treason Trial”, by renowned artist William Kentridge, is made up of 63 panels of a tree from South African mining manuals of the 1890s. The title refers to a 1956 case against 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 ceramist. Recently presented at the Gardner Museum, her work reflects what Angelo describes as “the metamorphosis of a person who abandons their traditional beliefs and expectations to grow personally”.

Another more recent work highlighted is that of Cree master Kent Monkman, one of Canada’s greatest living artists. “I’m lucky his studio is only 300 meters away,” says Angelo. “I immediately fell in love with it. This is one of his series of portraits. All portraits use the name of the portrait painter to ensure their identity is commemorated just as much as the image itself. Angelo lends the painting to the major Monkman exhibit en route to the ROM in October.

If there’s one thing Angelo is equally passionate about, it’s baseball. The two worlds collide in his appreciation of George Sosnak, a Florida minor league umpire turned folk artist, who after World War II created brilliant paintings on baseballs. “I love the physical and mental aspects of the game,” says Angelo.

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