When the Ryerson Image Centre opened in time for Nuit Blanche this year, Toronto gained a major new cultural attraction, one aimed squarely at the importance of the photographic image in this world. The facility is a place to study the image, create it, and to celebrate it, with the image exhibition, study and preservation spaces sharing the building with Ryerson's School of Image Arts which opened earlier this year. The sister institutions exist inside—and beyond—the walls of the former O'Keefe brewey at Bond and Gould streets in the city's centre.
The yellow-brick brewery had long been reused as classrooms and offices for the university, but changing needs and updated technologies meant that the windowless building needed a complete rebuild, and Ryerson determined to build one that would benefit the campus and city outside as much as the students inside.
The trigger for the rebuild was the anonymous donation of the massive and astounding Black Star Collection, over 292,000 photographic prints produced since 1935 by the many photographers at New York's Black Star Agency. The black-and-white collection includes images of many of the most important events of the mid 1900s: thousands of these works ended up in LIFE magazine, Time, and many others. Now the Black Star Colelction makes up the bulk of works which will be revelaed in exhibitions in the building's 4,500 square feet of new galleries. The Ryerson Image Centre (or RIC) is now one of the world's three greatest museums and research centres dedicated to photography.
Ryerson University turned to Diamond Schmitt Architects to redesign the very soldily built former brewery, and the end result could not look more different from the old building. Replacing the brick walls are now glass-walled hallways and workspaces on all sides of the lower floors, while the upper floor walls are hidden behind translucent white panels which glow with LED colour at nighttime.
The LEDs can all glow the same colour, as in the Ryerson blue seen in the image above, or they can produce a near infinite range of colours and patterns from panel to panel. A web app created by the university can be accessed on smart phones, allowing passersby to vary the colours (when Ryerson is not restricting the display to certain patterns).
The boldest gesture added to the exterior of the RIC is the photo screen, lining the second floor hallway on the west side of the building and facing the square around the pond and wintertime skating rink known as Lake Devo. Eleven iconic faces culled from the Black Star Colelction have been reproduced on the screen, giving clues as to the treasures held inside the building. The screen should last several years before fading would mean that consideration be given to replacing it. Ryerson appears as if through venetian blinds on the other side of the screen.
Back at ground level an exterior walkway leads visitors to a glassed-in colonnade, and then into the centre's reception space. The colonnade features the Salah J. Bachir New Media Wall, a 16-foot sreen installation currently showing the first of the eight installations visitors will see as part of Archival Dialogues: Reading the Black Star Collection, one of two inaugural exhibitions in the centre's galleries. David Rokeby's work, Shrouded, viewable from the street, blurs 48 images, slowly revealing pinpointed details as if an eye is slowly travelling across the screens. After a minute the whole photograph is revealved and the patient viewer richly rewarded. The installation reminds one of the adage 'a photograph is word a thousand words'; that while photographs present one scene, there are often a myriad of details to consider, and that in this ADD-challenged age we may be missing much of the depth offered to us in art.
Rokeby and his seven fellow artists were asked to consider the Black Star collection, and just how does one digest a 292,00 image bounty? It certainly is a mind-boggling number. Descriptions of how all of the eight artists tackled that question in the exhibition can be found here.
Screens project may of the first images we see inside in the reception areas, but give way to more traditional prints in other gallery spaces.
The other of the two inaugural exhibitions considers the archive itself in "The Art of the Archive".
The exhibition begs the questions as to how the RIC archives its own collections, and the answer is found hidden away in an extensive climate controlled vault built to preserve the hundreds of thousands of articles in perpetuity. Three members of the Diamond Schmitt design team, including Steven Bondar, associate Peggy Theodore, and principal Donald Schmitt, pose in the archive.
There are only a couple of weeks to see the inaugural exhibitions before they close after December 16th. Admission to the RIC is free, and it can be visited 11 AM to 6 PM Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, until 8 PM on Wednesday, and from Noon until 5 PM on Saturdays. The RIC is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The RIC will be closed over the holidays with new exhibitions premiering in January.
To find out more about the Ryerson Image Centre building, visit UrbanToronto's dataBase page for the project, linked below. To get in on the discussion, visit the associated Forum thread.
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