March 2015

Renée Van Halm, “Reconstructions: The Past, 1986”, oil on panel, 62.23 x 101.6 cm. Gift of Alison and Alan Schwartz, 1997

Renée Van Halm (Dutch-Canadian, b. 1949)
Reconstructions: The Past, 1986
oil on panel
sight: 62.23 x 101.6 cm
Gift of Alison and Alan Schwartz, 1997

Renée Van Halm’s Reconstruction: The Past (1986) weds two of Van Halm’s enduring concerns: Renaissance art history and modernist space. In this work, two painted panels are framed together and share a common chestnut foreground. The first panel depicts a modernist building with the cantilevered roof and bold linear elements that are typical of the design of that period. The building sits in a grey rectangle, sitting atop the image plane like a photograph. A ribbon flutters across the sky behind it, evoking the decorative flourishes discarded by minimalist architects. In the second panel is a classical ruin, darkly shadowed and strangely truncated. The ruin is rendered larger than the modernist building and sits in, rather than on, the landscape. Both scenes are devoid of figures.

As Sophie Brodovitch notes, “Looking to her earliest works from the 1970s, the interest in architecture and its relationship to narrative and social space is evident.” Deeply critical of the utopian ideals central to modernism, Van Halm nonetheless leaves the conflict between classical and modernist spaces unresolved and with an underlying tension. The competing narratives suggested by either panel meet in ambiguity. The scenes are set and all feels imminent.

Renée Van Halm was born in Amsterdam, and moved to Canada in 1954. She studied art at the Vancouver School of Art, and completed her MFA at Concordia University. In 1979, she co-founded Mercer Union. She has taught at York University and at Emily Carr College of Art and Design, where she served as Dean of the Faculty of Visual Art and Material Practice. Her work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions throughout North America, including the Burnaby Art Gallery, Burnaby, BC; Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, AB; the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge AB; Keller and Greene, Los Angeles, CA; and the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC. Her work is held in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the MacLaren Art Centre.