Ryan McCourt

Top 40 Under 40 2011

Photography 3Ten/Aaron Pedersen

Age: 36

Job Title: Sculptor and owner, Common Sense Gallery

Why He’s Top 40: He supports local artists through his gallery and studio space, and encourages critical discourse about Edmonton’s art scene.

Key To Success: “I think success is mostly attributable to factors beyond our control, like genetics and environment … you have to do what you love.”

Ryan McCourt proudly shows off his metal sculpture, The Reawakening of Ganesha, one of his four controversial sculptures removed from the Shaw Conference Centre in 2007 after some members of the Hindu community signed a petition, complaining of the statues’ prurient nature. It depicts one of Hinduism’s most revered deities but, in McCourt’s version, the elephant’s head has been decapitated and lies between the animal’s feet. Beside it, a pillar exalts a woman’s breast, the primary reason McCourt believes the pieces were censored.

“I don’t think they noticed the vagina,” he says, adding that his sculptures are based on the ideas of Ganesha – balance and harmony.

The Edmonton-born sculptor never thought of himself as an artist until he switched from studying anthropology to fine art in his second year at the University of Alberta. After graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture in 1999, he became artistic coordinator for The Works Art Expo (then part of the Works Art + Design Festival) in 2001 and organized several Royal Alberta Museum exhibitions, including the Alberta Centennial Sculpture Exhibition.

But McCourt considers himself a critic of the gallery establishment, and when his art enters gallery shows, it’s sometimes with the purpose of provoking critical discourse.

In objection to the “National Portrait Gallery” show at Latitude 53, which he felt would never accept his “real” art, he sent in an anonymous mock-up of Ingres’ Napoleon as Jupiter Enthroned redone with Stephen Harper’s face along with a fabricated letter from the Prime Minister. His anonymous submission was immediately accepted into the show and became the poster child of the exhibit.

McCourt also believes artists should get 100 per cent of the earnings for what they sell, and not have to pass 50 per cent to galleries, so he opened his own gallery, Common Sense, in 2007 to give artists just that. He pays the rent by leasing space to other sculptors through the adjacent North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, an initiative he created and spearheads to provide affordable studio space.

McCourt believes his outspoken nature makes him one of Edmonton’s more controversial, even onerous artists, but he embraces it. 

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