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Salvador Dolly 

It's April again, newly blossoming flowers scent the air and surrealism is everywhere. Of course, around here surrealism is always everywhere, but now there's a bumper crop in local galleries, seemingly coming into season with the strawberries. Beyond Noel Rockmore and Caroline Durieux, there's also Keith Perelli and Roberta Marks. And then there's Audra Kohout at Heriard-Cimino and Michele Muennig at Taylor-Bercier " two artists who barely know each other and rarely even have shows, yet often end up exhibiting at the same time in what could only be a case of surrealist synchronicity. Kohout is almost always consistent yet always evolving, and this year's offerings continue her explorations of her ongoing themes of childhood, the feminine persona and the psyche. Her assemblages and box constructions are like puzzles, but you can't solve them with linear logic; only intuition or lateral thinking will do. While these works are clearly surrealistic, they are not inspired by art history so much as personal responses to her own experience and environment, a description that applies to Muennig's work as well. Both artists delve into deeply intimate mysteries in a poetic dialogue of personal and universal sensibilities.

Kohout has an elegant way of being over the top. In Journey of the Misfit Prince, a gilded metal horse with the head and shoulders of a doll princess is ridden by a doll prince through a forest of flowers " a tableau like a fairy tale version of the scene in La Dolce Vita in which Marcello Mastroianni rides the naked Anita Ekbert like a horse. Here both wear tattered crowns, but where the doll princess seems stoic and unruffled, the doll prince looks a little edgy and discombobulated " so we may wonder who is leading whom.

Another box construction, By the Time She Opened Her Heart It Was Too Late, features a pair of girl-doll acrobats doing tricks. One does back flips on an iron wheel connected by pulleys to a clockwork mechanism as the other girl extends an apple in one hand while brandishing a whip. The clockwork contraption suggests a pattern of repetition, a maze of mechanisms that may be difficult to escape even as the visual poetry of the scene conveys a sensibility poised somewhere between the seductive and the addictive. And so it goes in Kohout world, a kind of faerie land where humanity's inner quirks attain mythic form as they emerge from the bottomless Pandora's box of the psyche. It's all rather amazing.

Michele Muennig's earlier shows were comprised of subtly yet elegantly realized paintings that conveyed a surrealism that was at home in New Orleans, where she lived for years, while harking to the magical realism of Latin America, a sensibility that appears to have deep, if less known, roots in her native California as well. In this show, Muennig proffers some largish graphite drawings along with some smaller paintings on paper that coincidentally complement the fairy tale surrealism of Kohout's constructions. In Life Line, a pale woman wearing something resembling a Victorian nightgown stands like a sleepwalking Madonna with her eyes closed while a near mirror image of her head and shoulders descends upside down into the picture from above. Her hand opens her gown at her midriff, releasing a swarm of bees, all finely and convincingly drawn. In Never Ending Lullaby a woman deftly wields a needle and thread to sew a ruffled fabric that morphs into a wasp nest as wasps buzz about the strands of her hair rising into the air above her, gently transforming into flowering foliage. This makes no logical sense, yet is visually complete, a universe unto itself, a portal into a world where all times are the same time and all boundaries are boundless.

click to enlarge Audra Kohout's Journey of the Misfit Prince is a fairy tale construction that raises psychological questions and asks who is leading whom.
  • Audra Kohout's Journey of the Misfit Prince is a fairy tale construction that raises psychological questions and asks who is leading whom.
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