The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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Important Update

June 7, 1998, to August 30, 1998 | Old Hundred

Pop Surrealism

Pop Surrealism is an exhibition of work by 73 artists whose surrealist tendencies are informed by popular culture. Both Pop art and surrealism have remained extremely influential on twentieth century art. The artists in Pop Surrealism look deep into representations of contemporary culture, mutating them with a surrealist’s eye.


Installation Photos


The Pop artists of the 1950s and 1960s took a new attitude toward the art object. centrals to this attitude was the acceptance of mass media images as art. In reaction to the total "inwardness" of their abstract expressionist predecessors, Pop artists looked out into their everyday environment, finding imagery in modern life. This imagery included advertisements, celebrities, and consumer produces. Pop art echoed commercial art not only in its images, but in its processes, by mass-producing work through techniques like silk screening. In this way, Pop artists believe that art comes from everywhere and is accessible to everyone. Popular culture is therefore always contemporary and remains a constant influence on art.


Born out of the often absurd, intuitive, and fantastic Dada movement, Surrealism succeeded in shedding the reasoned, formal aim of Cubism. Surrealists were interested in the reality of the unconscious mind, which they considered more genuine that conscious rational thought. Artists combined imagery from deep within their minds with more familiar objects, often creating strange and dream-like compositions. During the 1920s, two styles developed within Surrealism. The hyper-real dreamlike imagery of artists such as Salvador Dalí and Giorgio deChirico often involved morphed images of the body in vast, isolated landscapes. Artistic such as Joan Miró and André Masson followed in the Dadaist footsteps, using free association of pictorial elements — or automatism — to create abstract compositions. Obsession with the body, contorted reality, temporal dislocation, and constant change are all manifestations of Surrealism in contemporary art.

Pop Surrealism?

Although movie titles and brand names have changed, society’s obsession with popular culture has not. Both Pop and Surrealist artists flipped traditional hierarchies upside down, mixing high and low to displace conventional roles in art. Pop Surrealists continue in the tradition of making art a truly popular, fun and provocative pursuit. The artists grew up surrounded by images in cartoons, films, toys, television, computers, and advertisements. The artists in Pop Surrealism looked deep into the representation of contemporary culture, mutating them with a surrealist’s eye.

The exhibition was curated by a team of four people with three themes in mind. The first, the grotesque body, was tackled by curator Dominique Nahas. This portion of the exhibition dealt with the fragmented body, the popular quest for its perfection and our obsession with its imperfections, as well as the body as a site for the mutation and change. The second theme, explored by writer and curator Ingrid Schaffner and Museum director Harry Philbrick, was popular iconography. Popular cultural icons like Snow White, Michael Jackson, and Dali’s melting clock, was transformed from a surreal icon to a pop icon. Finally, the Museum’s assistant director, Richard Klein, explored the irrational and fantastic in comic art, and underground culture that has seeped into the mainstream. The broad range of mediums employed by the artists in Pop Surrealism — painting, sculpture, film, photography, drawing, installation, books, prints, and video — reflected the breadth of influence surrounding contemporary society.

Curated by Richard Klein, Dominique Nahas, Harry Philbrick, and Ingrid Schaffner

Artists: Shonagh Adelman, John Alfano, Richard Artschwager, Michael Bevilacqua, Ashley Bickerton, Charles Burns, Mary Carlson, Amanda Church, Bonnie Collura, Miles Coolidge, Gregory Crewdson, John Currin, Nancy Davidson, Georganne Deen, Carroll Dunham, Jeanne Dunning, Brad Eberhard, James Esber, Inka Essenhigh, Tom Friedman, Anna Gaskell, Graham Gillmore, Cameron Jamie, Kaz, Mike Kelley, Jeremy Kidd, John Kricfalusi, Yayoi Kusama, Charles Long, Giles Lyon, Ruth Marten, Patty Martori, Tony Matelli, Paul McCarthy, Sean Mellyn, Annette Messager, Curtis Mitchell, Mariko Mori, Takashi Murakami, Daisuke Nakayama, Rachel Neubauer, Manuel Ocampo, Tom Otterness, Tony Oursler, Judith Page, Gary Panter, Alix Pearlstein, Lari Pittman, Ernesto Pujol, Paul Henry Ramirez, Michael Rees, Peter Saul, Kenny Scharf, Pieter Schoolwerth, Christian Schumann, Team SHaG, Jim Shaw, Cindy Sherman, Alyson Shotz, Shahzia Sikander, Art Spiegelman, Linda Stark, Laura Stein, Haim Steinbach, Robin Tewes, Nicola Tyson, Mark Dean Veca, John Waters, John Wesley, Robert Williams, Sue Williams, Lisa Yuskavage, Michael Zansky


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Top image: Takashi Murakami, 1997