Burning Desire At Ryerson Image Centre

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K. Stephen

(TORONTO, ON) – The title of the Ryerson photo exhibit, Burning Desire, may conjure unwarranted images of goings on at certain Yonge Street clubs nearby but, instead, it’s a pleasant historical digression. In a few words, it’s about the glitz of Hollywood and its celebrities done in an artistic, historical, and tasteful fashion.

Since most of the photographs are of females, one might also come to the conclusion there is a feminist theme to the exhibit. The rise of women in the manufactured Hollywood environment, possibly.

Monroe's photo courtesy of Museum of Modern Art New York.

Richard Avedon’s Marilyn Monroe.
Contributed image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

You’ll get off to a good and familiar start with 5 Warhol Marylyn Monroe’s staring right at you. Striking imagery. If Monet could paint endlessly at Giverny then Warhol can produce endless images of Norma Rae.

There are a whole host of Monroe black and white photos in the first room of the exhibit, including many taken at the 1962 Golden Globe Awards. Monroe looks a bit ragged and exhausted and far from glamorous. Perhaps no surprise, since her suicide, or was it an execution by the CIA, was fast approaching?

If anything, the most striking photograph of Monroe was taken in 1957 by fashion photographer Richard Avedon. There is tragedy and sadness in her face, aside from great beauty, a far cry from the 1962 Golden Globe photos.

After the Warhol and Avedon imagery, the exhibit tones down into predominately black and white photographs of well known Hollywood icons including a particular 1956 black and white photo of Sophia Loren by Gene Cook. What raw beauty.

There is also a 1931 Chaplin photo so very serious, and so far from our image of the little clown.

There is nothing like a photograph to capture the essence of the real person so the exhibit offers a real treat in witnessing Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Catherine Deneuve, Greta Garbo, Lucille Ball, Sophia Loren, Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, and three early 1960 photos of Marlin Brando, before he became Coronel Kurtz in Hollywood, and real life.

Can I sum this exhibit up?

A pleasant, reflective view of Hollywood and celebrity worship. A very sad feeling about Marylyn Monroe. Hollywood’s ability to build up and self destruct.

In order to slap us silly, and back into reality, across the hall is the Anti Glamour exhibit. There, a wall of coloured photos of less than stunning Hollywood starlets, one even carrying a vacuum cleaner. We are then hit with a series of our own, Canadian Katherine Lannin. Photos of bare breasted women wearing protective athletic headgear. Anti Glamour brings you down to reality real fast as a contradiction to Burning Desire.

Now, just when you thought you are done and leaving, you exit down the entrance hallway and, upon the Salah J Bachir New Media Wall, there is the Alex Prager Touch of Evil video presentation. There are various Hollywood celebrities portraying nefarious villains from cult classic movies including Eraserhead, A Clockwork Orange, and Raging Bull.

This little effort was commissioned by the New York Times and lets the raw acting talents of various Hollywood icons take control of the screen, all with an element of evil in their short vignettes.

Brad Pitt with frizzed hair and covered by moths, Viola Davis as a nurse covered in ladybugs, Ryan Gosling turning into the Invisible Man and, the most evil of all, Mia Waskowska walking through a room of mirrors with an axe, hacking away.

Draw your own conclusions from Prager’s little flight of fancy. Is it shattering the fantasy of Hollywood? A surprise treat indeed.

A well spent couple of hours.

(Burn With Desire, Photography, and Glamour and Anti Glamour, 21 January – 5 April 2015, Ryerson Image Centre, 33 Gould Street, Toronto, Ontario, 416-979-5164, Free Admission)

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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