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By Craig Herbert

The Ryerson Gallery is a posh space on the third floor of a restored warehouse in the heart of Toronto’s fashion district. It has antique hardwood floors and a very upscale vibe. It’s a far cry from the Ryerson Image Arts building, which is currently a cloud of dust and a cacophony of jackhammers and circular saws as it undergoes its long overdue renovation.

With a location so far off campus — 80 Spadina Ave. in Suite 305 — it’s easy to forget we have a gallery at all. But that would be doing a grave disservice to the quality of the shows put on there.

“Being a Ryerson University Gallery, its easy to forget that we are a public place,” says Sarah Munro, the Exhibition Coordinator and a fourth-year photography student.

This is a problem when the general gallery-going public views it as a university institution, and the student body is largely ignorant of its existence and quality.

This is a shame because in addition to the gallery’s very popular Christmas show and art auction, which exhibits and sells work from Ryerson students and alumni including Edward Burtynsky, there are more publicized shows like Dominic Nahr’s popular When Brothers Fight. The gallery and its largely student centered shows do not get half the attendance they should.

If the student content and free admission aren’t enough, then consider the sheer uniqueness of the Ryerson Gallery. Stop in at any of its usual month-long exhibitions and you’re just as likely to see a giant robotic egg from new media artist Randy Horton or prints from before you were born.

This is the case with the current exhibition, Pictures for a Portrait: Photographic Works of Wendy Macneil. You can drop by until Oct. 4 to see the exhibit, which is a retrospective of the works of Macneil. Interesting note — Macneil is the sister of photography professor Don Synder. The works were donated to the Mira Goddard Study center.

The centrepiece of the 50 photo exhibition is a group of photos Macneil took of Michigan Institute of Technology instructors. The instructors were up for review with the possibility of being terminated.

If you don’t get around to viewing Pictures for a Portrait, there are plenty of opportunities to catch one of the other shows being put on by current image arts students or image arts alumni.

The other 10 shows put on this year at the gallery have two new media-based shows, two curatorial studies and the annual third-year photography exhibition.

The newest show, opening on Oct. 8, is put on by Sabrina Maltese, a recent Ryerson photography grad, whose series entitled Memoria is an examination of the personal effects of a loved one and about holding onto a family member in dark times.

The photographs of everyday personal household curios are captured with all of the importance of a historical turning point. They give a sense of familiarity to the exhibit and a hauntingly beautiful quality that is not easily put into words and is meaningful tribute to Maltese’s grandparents, who are the focus of the exhibit.

Memoria, which is on until Nov. 1, and many other fine shows by Ryerson types can be seen for free Wednesday to Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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