Viktor Mitic: The Unplain Dealer
After a weekend of glitz in Miami, many Toronto art dealers are returning home to face uncanny reflections of themselves on the walls of Odon Wagner Contemporary. In his solo exhibition there, the Serbian-born, Toronto-based artist Viktor Mitic offers portraits of 36 Toronto dealers. In the following email interview, Mitic shares some thoughts on the making of this unusual project.
Q The portrait genre has a longstanding tradition and continues to evolve. But one doesn’t come across portraits of dealers very often. What was the impetus for this project?
A The usual path for a contemporary gallery is to showcase work done by artists that runs the gamut from decorative to provocative to scurrilous. The owners-dealers are usually behind the scenes, working closely with the artist to present a creative concept to the public. This exhibition reverses that direction. Those who are most often unrecognized are now in the spotlight. The “in your face” approach could be shocking at first, and it would take some effort for the people involved to accept that their portraits will be hanging in a commercial gallery. But it is art, after all.
Q What were your criteria for choosing these specific dealers? And why Toronto?
A I spent my last 20 years in Toronto and these are the galleries I visit often, the ones I admire and have heard of through the media and artists I network with. Gary Michael Dault and Charles Pachter have also mentioned a couple of essential names that I might have missed otherwise, but I had to stop at some point. There are just too many important art dealers in this city and I feel bad that some great ones are not in the show. Maybe “Dealers 2” or “Dealers Extended” would be the next show.
Q There’s a sense of immediacy to all the portraits. How did you accomplish this?
A To start, I met with each of the dealers and photographed them, on many occasions just using a low-quality cellphone camera. It was so hard to get them to do anything more then pose for two seconds—I think I caught them off guard and the presence of a cellphone, not some fancy camera with flash and umbrellas, allowed for a natural, relaxed pose. The informal quality made the whole thing of getting photographed seem like fun, not serious work. Perhaps you could even call it a “guerrilla approach” for the iPhone generation?
Q You are perhaps best known for portraits that are critical of public figures, and these seem less visceral by comparison. How does this project fit into your overall body of work?
A This approach to traditional portraiture is closely connected to the other series of work I do where I use various weapons and live ammunition to shoot the outline of the subject painted. Blasted Beaverbrook, Hole Jesus and Blasted Guernica are a few examples of these. As Terry Graff, the curator and deputy director of Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, succinctly put it, my practice is “serious painting, but it's fun . . . there is levity to it.” Viewers and critics alike describe my portraitures as shocking, unusual and at times, difficult to come to terms with. This exhibition gets the same effect but without the firepower being used to achieve it.