Monique Genton: Tidy

At the Art + Soul Gallery until April 9

Modernist architecture has attracted an abundance of creative and curatorial attention in this postmodern age. In Vancouver over the past two decades, photographers, painters, collagists, and sculptors have employed images of 20th-century buildings to illuminate modernism's ideals and critique its failures. Monique Genton's show, Tidy, focuses on the low-rise and mid-rise apartment buildings constructed in the Lower Mainland between the 1950s and the 1970s. Operating on a small scale and with a gentle and sometimes paradoxical intimacy, her work is part homage and part lament.

The show comprises 13 mixed-media paintings and two photo-based, multi-component wall works. Genton, a baby boomer who has studied at the Emily Carr Institute, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the University of British Columbia, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, brings a hybrid visual sensibility to her projects. Her photographic works are painterly in their references, and her paintings are photographic in theirs. The melding of media and the delicacy and precision of execution suggest an attachment to both concept and object.

Series 6 and Series 10 are developed from a body of work originally exhibited at the Richmond Art Gallery and addressing the collision of postwar optimism, suburban sprawl, and the politics of lawn. Each consists of a grid of small, photo-based images-close-up shots of patches of grass-executed in acrylic and ink in a spectrum of bleached-out colours, from very pale creams, greys, greens, and yellows to lime, lilac, and turquoise. The grid formation and subtle monochromes speak to historical minimalist-conceptualist practice; the subject matter includes the human impulse to control and contain nature, to plant it, trim it, weed it, and organize it into large and small squares of short grass.

The most recent work here is a series of paintings in watercolour on acrylic. In most instances, the watercolour is the hue of architectural blueprints, and the acrylic ground is a creamy monochrome marked with hard-edge bands and boxes of pale greens and earth tones. The images, picked out in blue, are of the local, midcentury apartment buildings that compel Genton's interest, viewed from the street or the back lane. Apparently based on photographs, they are reduced to a kind of telegraphic essence: stencil-like treatments of a few salient features, including windows, balconies, foliage, traffic signs, and automobiles. Again, the historic allusions appear to be to the mechanistic aspects of high-modernist painting, against which these handmade images of International Style buildings project a kind of wobbly vulnerability.

The omnipresent cars, half-ton trucks, and SUVs, parked on the street in front of the buildings or in paved lots or carports behind, speak to a condition unanticipated by postwar architects and developers. A few decades ago, the number of designated parking spaces did not begin to approximate the number of suites in each building. Genton's paintings encapsulate the betrayal of modernism's belief in the utopian possibilities inherent in new design, materials, and technologies. The SUV is the perfect metaphor for contemporary technology's anti-utopian proclivities, for its profit-driven snub of even the slightest notion of social good.