The exhibition is called “The Sentinel,” and the images stare at you, penetratingly, on three walls in a small gallery in the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. There is only one drawing per wall; anything more would clutter the majesty of the large-scale graphite works.
The artist, Christina Pettersson – a South Floridian by way of Sweden – sought to reflect on Florida’s “alluring mystery,” writing that “since the first Spanish Conquistadors set foot on the shores of what we know as Florida, dreams and fantasies of what might exist have driven this region’s allure. To this day Florida is borrowing images and stories from whichever culture and history that seems most appealing.”
I wish I saw the kind of “Florida” that Pettersson draws in these imposing images of Edenic splendor, and not the parade of sun-baked strip malls interrupted by the occasional beachside paradise. A single woman populates each of her landscapes, and in two of them, she is nude, covered only by the occasional sash or trinket around the neck (if you can call a dead chicken a trinket). In one, she’s holding a bow and aiming it as us, or, more charitably, just past us, at … what? An intruder? There is no sign of Man in Pettersson’s drawings, but animals are everywhere, bursting out of trees and rocks and literally materializing out of every crevice (these are dense works, and the more you look at them, the more you see). In one of the pieces, the woman is reclining on a bearskin rug, looking every bit like a model from a nude Renaissance painting, such as those completed by Renoir, Delacroix or Vecchio.
Therefore, I’m not inclined to believe the artist when she says, on her website, that “I am certainly not in a dialogue with the past.” To my eyes, the dialogue is between art history and modernity, the classical and the fantastical, the worldly and the otherworldly.
This dichotomy is enhanced when you enter “The Last Look,” Pettersson’s site-specific installation inspired by Persephone, the Greek goddess who lorded over the underworld. Visitors walk through a path of “seaweed,” flanked on either side by crystallized shells, toward a giant screen showing a video of a woman walking a similar path, to the strains of a haunting folksong. The experience is like entering a three-dimensional version of Pettersson’s visual art, transporting us through a familiar portal into an unfamiliar land.
As for the only other piece in this exhibition, it’s a portrait, housed in a scarred thrift-store frame, of a woman clutching a sculpture of a unicorn – a family heirloom, according to its title. Pettersson is no stranger to unicorns; she created a short film about them for 2009’s Optic Nerve Film Festival in Miami. It looks to be the most incongruent selection in this small exhibition, but it has its own allure, nonetheless.
I can’t say the same for a good portion of the works on display in the Art and Culture Center’s main gallery. The exhibition is called “Abracadabra.” Now in its fifth year, the annual “Abracabra” exhibit showcases new works donated by 100 artists from South Florida and beyond. The pieces will be raffled off to patrons who have purchased the pricey advanced raffle tickets, with the monies raised going to the keep the doors open at the Art and Culture Center.
There are some striking pieces, as usual, but the overall quality and diversity do not live up to the “Abracadabras” of the previous two years. The Pettersson exhibit, while featuring a tiny fraction of the art of “Abracadabra,” is alone worth a visit.
“Christina Pettersson: The Sentinel” is on display through March 11 at the Art and Culture Center, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Call 954/921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org.