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By Andrea Jezovit

It’s an inconspicuous single room on the creaky third floor of Toronto’s Art at 80 complex, amid a slew of other galleries.

But to Joyce Lau, the Ryerson Gallery is a unique and critical part of the Canadian art scene. Lau’s exhibition, “Hollywood Beauty Secrets,” opens the Ryerson Gallery for the school year, and the recent grad credits the show with helping her transition from Ryerson’s Image Arts program to the real world.

“It’s a good way of getting myself back into making art. It’s a professional gallery, it has established credibility and it’s associated with the school. It’s a good stepping stone for students to have this space.”

Since its 1990 inception, the Ryerson Gallery has showcased contemporary film, new media and photography from emerging Canadian artists, including students and graduates of Ryerson’s School of Image Arts such as Lau.

Run by Image Arts faculty and students, the gallery has played an important role in bringing student work off campus. “This department has a very strong film, photography and New Media program,” said gallery director and Ryerson faculty member David Harris.

“A lot of students come here to study these media, and the work that emerges from it is important because they can’t study this anywhere else in Toronto. It’s kind of a hothouse for work, and the gallery is a very good opportunity to have an outlet for it.”

Of the 14 exhibitions planned for the academic year, three are directly linked to Image Arts courses: Second-year New Media students and third-year photography students will present their work, and a curation and preservation class taught by Harris will organize an exhibition of original photographs from the collection at the Mira Godard Study Centre, a resource centre at the School of Image Arts.

Harris will be running the gallery with four undergraduate interns who co-ordinate exhibitions and handle fundraising, promotions and web maintenance.

“The gallery functions in all these different ways. There are opportunities for students to exhibit their work, to work in a gallery setting, and to curate other people’s work,” Harris says. “Students who have their first exhibition there go on to have regular exhibitions in Toronto and galleries in other cities, and students who work in the gallery go on to pursue careers in a gallery or museum situation.”

Harris cites Lau’s exhibition, running until Oct. 2, as representative of the innovative work typically displayed at the gallery. Her two-and-a-half by seven-and-a-half-foot panels act like massive, twisted billboards, matching stark black-and-white images that mock the beauty myth ideal with text that reads like advertising copy.

A photograph of a starving, emaciated woman is paired with a shiny apple and the words “an apple a day.” In another, an anorexic-looking female figure is accompanied by a catalogue-like image of a vacuum cleaner and the phrase

“Maybe it’s Maybelline.” The gallery’s next show, “Thirst Carried in Fragile Vessels,” a video installation by Justin Broadbent, will open Oct. 6. After her current exhibition, Lau plans to submit her work to other galleries.

But for now, she’s happy with the reaction “Hollywood Beauty Secrets” is getting and says her experience with the Ryerson Gallery has given her confidence. “You work on projects all year and you don’t want them just sitting in a garbage bag behind your couch,” she says. “It’s nice to have people come out and appreciate you.”

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