“Once upon a time” meets “Off with their heads!” in the latest exhibition from Boca Raton Museum of Art, where tar-colored vintage ornaments, baroque motifs and headless perfume bottles make up for a twisted fairy tale.
I shouldn’t let you conquer me so sweetly.
They are among the cryptic opening lines framing the romantic wall installations in Vicki Pierre: Be My Herald of What’s to Come. Running through September 5, the show explores personal and universal notions of identity, femininity, colonialism, and race while avoiding the excessively declarative tone.
The heavily decorative characteristic of Pierre’s assemblages floods the second-floor gallery with drama and theatrics; the sanitized and dull get flushed out. The creations combine elements from her memories and Haitian heritage, including the Caribbean community at large, with fantasy, surrealism, and pop culture.
“My intention is always to create work that is honest and authentic to me, that moves me forward on a path of personal growth and understanding of my place in the world, universe,” said Pierre, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Each piece contains within it mini-vignettes dressed up in rococo, European flourishes and Victorian adornments, all of which Pierre recalls from her childhood home in Brooklyn. They are made up of items the artist has collected through the years, such as Avon perfume bottles that personify women in period skirts and capes and galleon ships that symbolize the slave trade. The ornamental clusters formed by the grouping of these objects are not meant to be seen isolated. Each piece should be taken in as a whole, hence the sparkling beads connecting all the mini-scenes in I Can’t Say No to You (Good Enough).
In this work from 2014, the beads act as sails pushing the canvas forward while the elongated blue drops mimic the blades of oars. In characteristic Pierre fashion, gold accents such as bracelets and fleur-de-lys symbols, appear randomly and here underscore the disturbing mission of the Atlantic slave trade: trading human beings for gold. The metal stands in high contract with the individual mini altars painted in glossy black.
Pierre’s installations are said to possess a charming storybook quality. We can see why in the treatment mimicking the twirls and creases of a princess dress, except there is also no sugar-coating here. The artist’s take on the idea of a princess consists of removing the top of perfume bottles, essentially decapitating the character.
Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are replaced instead by original new characters, who convey empowerment and refuse to justify their presence. They are what they are; no need to underline their value. Meanwhile, the titles and cursive vinyl text granted to the works read like daily affirmations or breakup lines to a former self.
In And Though I May Have Lost My Way, All Paths Lead Straight to You, white flaxen hair removed from dolls pour out of white perfume bottles placed against a powder-blue monochromatic background. At the top, in neon pink letters, a proclamation reads “Nothing Real Love Can’t Undo.”
The text is an integral part of Pierre’s creative process and stems from music and song lyrics she listens to while working. At times, it echoes the romantic, sensual sentiment associated with the fairy tales the characters emerge from. Other times, the writing alludes to something ethereal and futuristic.
“It has to evoke a certain feeling for me,” said the Miami-based artist. “Sometimes, I return to the same song over and over so I can sit in the moment perpetually while creating, so I’m sort of in a trancelike state.”
The choice of color, too, as seen in All Paths Lead Straight to You, is unexpected and far from accidental. It recalls French toile fabrics printed with pastoral scenes and the relief style of Wedgwood stoneware.
“It creates a mood, a starting path for me to express the overall narrative,” said Pierre.
“In some works, there’s more of what I consider an epic-type visual effect and in others, it can create more of a subtle, subdued or whimsical emotional feeling.”
The current solo show is a natural progression for Pierre, who showcased her work in the All Florida Invitational group exhibition put on by Boca Museum in 2016. Two of her murals now adorn the museum’s recently unveiled courtyard.
Also included in the show is a tall freestanding sculpture from 2020 that might be the most personal yet and through which the artist honors George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other nameless victims of racial and social injustice. Titled Black Flowers Blossom (Hanging Tree) and resembling a carousel, it represents a prayer with hand-strung glass and plastic beads cascading from its ceiling and culminating in tassels that don’t quite touch the base.
Wooden ships bookends stand next to distinguished women sporting European hats and garments at the base of the memorial-like tree, wrapped in a teal fabric branded with leaf motifs. Glitter and plastic butterflies and flowers put the finishing touches in what indisputably must be star of the show.
Several other remarkable pieces in Be My Herald go on to prove the spell Pierre’s pieces cast lasts well beyond midnight. We’ll leave you to discover the rest of the highlights.
Vicki Pierre: Be My Herald of What’s to Come runs through Sept. 5 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. The museum is open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays: Admission: $12. Call 561-392-2500 for more information or visit bocamuseum.org.