Hauntingly Beautiful 

Margaret Munz-Losch's "Beauty and the Beast" at L Ross.

click to enlarge "Beauty and the Beast" at L Ross Gallery includes Munz-Losch's Early Bird

Images Courtesy of the Artist and L Ross Gallery

"Beauty and the Beast" at L Ross Gallery includes Munz-Losch's Early Bird

"Beauty and the Beast" at L Ross Gallery includes Munz-Losch's Early Bird (above) and Red Hot Pokers (left).

Images Courtesy of the Artist and L Ross Gallery

Being the elitist sort, I initially discounted Margaret Munz-Losch's "Beauty and the Beast" at L Ross Gallery based on the press release. I had assumed that it was going to be another exhibition of someone making photorealistic paintings of cute little girls and anthropomorphic animals — a big seller here in the Mid-South and things I really, really dislike. So it's a good thing my wife Georgia prefers to shop at the Kroger on Mendenhall. I am glad I went with her, which I normally do not. It is also fortunate that the parking lot at Kroger was crazytown busy, and we decided to go somewhere else. My wife, who does not have any of the prejudices toward art that I do, wanted to stop by L Ross first. I am glad we went and that I was wrong about my assumptions for this exhibition and this type of work.

There is nothing "beastly" about this exhibition. Sure, there are some beavers, an octopus, and a monkey having sex with a white stallion while balancing a cupcake on its tail. But there's nothing similar to the images that come to mind when one thinks of the "beast" as seen in the Disney film. The "beauty," too, is more than the superficial notion that Dave Hickey championed in the 1990s. There are beautifully painted images of women, pink flamingos, and sea horses, but these pieces are much more layered than that. So much more.

When I first entered the gallery, I felt that I had entered the C.S. Lewis novel made manifest in Andrew Adamson's film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — justification for the anthropomorphic animals, I suppose.

Munz-Losch's world is much more complex and interesting than this and so are the characters that inhabit this world. Beauty and ugliness are intertwined in each of the compositions. A twisted humor is afoot, worthy of Tim Burton, in each of the pieces as well.

In The Stelliferous Era, pink flamingos watch ravenously as little yellow candy Peeps are roasting on an open fire. A mongoose is balancing on a tree limb as he is effortlessly hunting small Jeff Koons-like balloon animals in a tiny nest in Home Alone. (Koons never gets any respect from anyone, ever.)

The choice of colored pencil and acrylic for these pieces adds to the fantasy/surreal quality of the work. These mediums combined make each of these pieces feel more like meticulously rendered animation cells worthy of Fantasia or the pink elephant sequence in Dumbo. The pink elephant scene, by the way, would fit seamlessly into the environment that Munz-Losch has created here.

The characters of this world are deceptively and hauntingly beautiful. The figure in Pink — Prêt à Porter wears a dress made of cupcakes and a train of cellophane. There's frosting in her hair. This same character appears in Early Bird with cocoons as skin and butterflies for hair; melting blue birds provide the fabric for the makings of a dress.

The artist, who is a dead ringer for the actress Julianne Moore, is represented in Merkin — Song of Swans. Munz-Losch, with her face painted white and eyes closed, tells us to "shush." She's wearing a carousel for a hat that has seven nude Barbie dolls spinning out of control. Is this her version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves?

After I left the gallery, I could not stop thinking about this exhibition. Much of the work in this show reminds me of other Memphis artists who deal with similar subjects: Bobby Spillman, Tim Crowder, and Anne Siems — all artists I deeply respect and whose work I admire. It has been two weeks since I visited the world of Margaret Munz-Losch, and I still cannot stop thinking about it.

Through November 30th

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