Review: Softening the Corners exhibition at Birch Contemporary, Toronto

Hard Edges Cushioned at Softening the Corners
Birch Contemporary, Toronto July 17 to August 30, 2014
By Leah Sandals

It seems there is such an interest right now in formalism and abstraction that work of a more representational or corporeal ilk comes across as a surprise—and a pleasant surprise at that.
“Softening the Corners,” a group show at Birch Contemporary, offers a few such unexpected diversions.

…After I viewed the exhibition, curator Corrie Jackson explained to me that a central work in the show is Renée Van Halm’s Privacy Screen. Halm is the only artist in the show actually represented by Birch Contemporary, and this work is from 1997—rather than 2014, like the other works in the show—reflecting Halm’s status as an artist of a more senior generation.
Privacy Screen both imitates and references the shoulder-height screens in Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which was built in 1951. Farnsworth House’s original owner eventually abandoned the structure for several reasons, one being a sense of constant exposure in the glass-walled home and another being the fact that it was not well adapted to the local landscape, being subject to severe flooding from a nearby waterway.
One side of Halm’s structure—the more extruded or “exterior” side—is painted black, with a representation of Farnsworth house in greys and whites along the top edge. The other side of the structure—the more enclosed or “interior” side—is painted bright red, creating a powerful visual contrast that at its most elemental might be framed as blood-versus-brain.
Farnsworth House was born of a beautiful idea, and it is, I take it, a beautiful structure—but it is not amenable to actual human habitation or nurturance, at least as far as most humans are concerned.
Exiting this exhibition (which included a few “misses” as well as the aforementioned “hits”), I wondered how much art made today is of a similar ilk—great as an idea or visual experience, but less amenable to corporeal and emotional needs.
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