What do missing persons, Edgar Allan Poe, the mother of Jesus and a robotic cat have in common? That’s what you get to sort through with the American Visionary Art Museum’s newest 11-month exhibition, “The Great Mystery Show.”

Mystery “is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science,” museum founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger told a small crowd at a show preview earlier this week. Running with that idea, Hoffberger has worked with 44 outsider artists – the self-taught and not professionally trained variety — to assemble an exhibition exploring life’s most bewildering aspects.

As usual, the featured makers in AVAM’s show span many backgrounds, from scientists and astronauts to mystics and philosophers. A pamphlet for the exhibition describes it as “one part lively fun house, two parts cosmic dream lab.”

Visitors are greeted by Margaret Munz-Losch’s moving colored-pencil portrait of a young girl named Villa, the daughter of Munz-Losch’s close friend, decked out in a dress of beetles and butterflies and clutching an innocent-looking small dog in her lap. Villa nearly died of encephalitis at age one but recovered, albeit with brain scarring that causes “occasional epilepsy,” according to an accompanying placard. Behind her are a bevy of stars, representing the universe that inexplicably allows these things to happen to small children. The drawing is one of several in the exhibit section titled, “The Mystery of Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”

For a more literal reflection on mystery, in the lobby sits a small shrine titled, “The Mystery of the Missing.” Included are a map of the U.S. states with the most missing persons (Arizona and Alaska are the leaders) and shelves of artist Mary Bowron’s ceramic heads from her “Silent Witness Series,” a tribute to those who have been silenced or gone missing.

Ironically, Edgar Allan Poe’s hulking likeness on the second floor feels less gloomy. That’s probably because it’s made of 5,000 marshmallows assembled by Christian Twamley (not including the ones used for the black cat at his feet). That section, “The Father of the Modern Mystery Story,” pays homage to one of Baltimore’s most mysterious historical icons at the foot of the harbor. Hoffberger suggested someone could see it and hear James Earl Jones’ reading of “The Raven” airing in the background.

Psychedelia and the spiritual awakenings of DMT figure heavily into this exhibition, which is never a surprise at AVAM. Ingo Swann’s grandiose paintings that are permanently installed in the museum’s stairwell are complemented by a recently found oil painting of Mary, Mother of Jesus, who weeps standing over a nuclear explosion uncomfortably close to the Earth.

“The Great Mystery Show” runs from Oct. 7 through Sept. 2, 2018. 

Read the complete story at BaltimoreFishbowl.com.

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