Art Review: MCA, Pop and Surrealism

Jerry at MCA

I recently visited the MCA with Jerry Sacher, who posed for the beautifully dramatic shot above. The furniture is there to tie into a current exhibit, which explores the connection between gallery-oriented Pop Art and commercial design trends in the 60s and 70s. Eames chairs and Lichtensteins look undeniably like they came out of the same design house, and it is impossible to tell without the explanatory placards which pieces are designated “Fine Art”. The collection, entitled Pop Art Design, makes joyously clear the mutual inspiration that these disciplines provided for one another.

To complement this exhibit, MCA has also brought out its collection of Pop Art pieces, including well-known works by Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Mel Ramos and more. Such mundane subjects as a fried egg and a movie pin-up are gloriously transfigured by the artists, becoming as significant as any Classical motif. The two exhibits together make for a bright, fun journey through a time in history when the zeitgeist took a humorous look at itself.

You will have a very different experience when you view another exhibit called Surrealism: The Conjured Life. Where the Pop exhibits are bright, the surreal artwork is dark and muted. Where the former are exuberant, the latter is introspective. Where the former present relatable imagery, the latter conjures alien vistas. Where Pop looks at the external world with a fun house mirror, Surrealism opens up the artists’ inner worlds, which often baffle the rational mind.

One could argue, however, that there is a connection between Pop and Surrealism. I think of Warhol’s head-shot paintings as contemporary Icons in the mystical sense, and of popular culture in general as a kind of religion. This religion speaks to our deep unconscious needs, imbuing celebrities with the power of saints (or sinners), the media with the power of prophecy, and consumerism with the power of ritual. Surrealism unveils some of those unconscious processes, letting us see the strangeness of our gods and demons.