Guilty Pleasures fill Ryerson Gallery

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By Mike Drach

Say you’re walking past the Image Arts building, thinking to yourself: Just what are those Artsies up to in there, anyways?  Boy I’d sure like to get a look at some of their work.  Someone should set up a gallery of some sort, in which the average guy can check out Ryerson’s creative community…

As it turns out, someone beat you to the punch — quite a while ago, actually.  Our Image Arts school has been renting space at 80 Spadina Ave. for almost 10 years now, to showcase photography by Ryerson students, staff and alumni.  What, you mean you didn’t know?

Don’t get too down on yourself.  Most Ryerson students have no idea this place exists including many photography students.  Why should they?  First-year photo majors hear it mentioned sometime during those drunken, hectic initial days of school, then the subject is practically dropped forever.  Unless you spend all your free time in the gloomy Image Arts building, chances are you’ll miss the puny postings on the first-floor bulletin board.

Well, you can no longer excuse your ignorance.  The Ryerson Gallery, Suite 304, is a great place for aspiring photographers, art connoisseurs or just the curious.  It’s a peaceful, relaxing place to experience Ryerson’s artistic efforts.

“In all the life I’ve lived my eyes have never seen so much beauty in one place at one time,” reads an anonymous entry in the Gallery’s guestbook, praising David Krovblit’s current exhibit, Anatomy.

Krovblit’s darkly beautiful exploration of the human body will last until Oct. 30, when Sarah Beck and Anthony Tremblay open their joint exhibition Guilty Pleasures.

Beck’s work criticizes radical feminism, and features the artist in a variety of provocative poses surrounded by domestic appliances.  Tremblay’s photos deal with male fantasy, represented by random images and dialogue borrowed from his television.

Beck, who worked at the gallery last year, says that it is important to be aware of what Ryerson’s artists are doing.  “Everybody’s welcome to come,” she said.

Along with some great pictures that are good for a chuckle, Beck and Tremblay are sweetening their opening with free (alcoholic!) refreshments, candy, music and an after-party at Gypsy Co-op, 815 Queen St. W.

Beck has seen an enthusiasm for the gallery drop in recent years, possibly due to poor management, she says, but most likely because all hype tends to eventually die down.  At first, the gallery received considerable press coverage, but these days “people take it for granted,” she said.

However, Image Arts students definitely have reason not to overlook the opportunity that the gallery represents.

Alex Galeote, an employee at the Ryerson Gallery, calls it “the perfect place to showcase your work” because it was created entirely with students in mind, giving them a chance to exhibit without a hanging fee.  Most importantly, he says, students get exposure to people who would normally never get to see their work, such as gallery owners, professional photographers, students from other schools and the media.

Priority is usually given to fourth-year or recently graduated students.  But if you’ve built up a good portfolio already, you can ask your department for an application to have an exhibit.  The work is reviewed by a panel of professors and students.

Does showcasing students’ work really provide them with experience and opportunity?  Just ask Stephen Bulger, who worked as director of the Ryerson Gallery in 1991.  Today, he owns and operates the successful Stephen Bulger Gallery at 700 Queen St. W.

Bulger was among the 31 students who displayed their work at the Ryerson Gallery’s first gala opening.  As he moved up the gallery’s ranks to become director, Bulger realized that it was something he enjoyed doing.  Noting the small number of Toronto art galleries dealing exclusively in photography, Bulger decided to open his own.  He even hired two other Ryerson alumni, Jennifer Long and Thomas Clayton, who had also displayed work at the Ryerson Gallery.

The Ryerson Gallery “offers a really good stepping stone if [students] are interested in pursuing a career,” said Bulger.  Having an exhibit there is a necessary step to take for students who are not yet ready to show their work in a commercial gallery, he said.

They may have the opportunity, but they still need more support.  Only about 40 to 80 people pass through the gallery per day, mostly spectators from the neighbouring Toronto Photographer’s Workshop.

However, opening galas at the Ryerson Gallery have been know to squeeze in several hundred people at a time.  So if you can make it to the opening of Guilty Pleasures this Friday at 7 p.m., you school will thank you.  Heck, you might even thank yourself.

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