Charlotta Westergren, "The Condemned," 2012. (Patrick Painter Inc. )
What better way to welcome spring than with lambs, flowers and fluffy white geese? Charlotta Westergren proffers them all in this intriguing but somewhat muddled exhibition at Patrick Painter. Saddled with the ponderous title, “SERE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape,” taken from a military training program, the show gestures toward many topics -- fecundity, Christianity, torture, war -- but never quite takes a satisfying bite out of any of them.
Sheep, geese and dead game, rendered in Westergren's skillful hand, evoke Old Master still lifes, photorealism, and, with their flat backgrounds, Pop art. The lambs in particular give the lie to idealized notions of fertility and rebirth, with umbilical cords dangling and hindquarters splattered with excrement. Yet these powerfully ambivalent images are interrupted by a celebratory image of a goose in flight over a background inexplicably coated with shiny car paint, and a painted detail from the medieval “Unicorn Tapestries” depicting a unicorn goring a dog.
Rounding out the cacophony is an installation of tiny images of flowers and other plant life pinned to the wall. Lifted from Martha Stewart Living magazine, the images outline the letters of a common obscenity for the reproductive act. It’s clear that Westergren is intent on holding oppositions in tension — innocence and squalor, fertility and cruelty — but these big ideas seem to have gotten away from her.
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-- Sharon Mizota
Patrick Painter, 2525 Michigan Ave., B2, (310) 264-5988, through May 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.patrickpainter.com