What exactly is pop-surrealism art? Jason Andreasen, director of the Baton Rouge Gallery, entices us to see the new Surreal Salon exhibit.
Describe pop-surrealism art.
One of the things we've seen is confusion in the difference between surrealism and pop-surrealism. And there's plenty of people who will tell you that pop-surrealism isn't a great name for the movement. That's why some people call it lowbrow art, and other people will refer to it as new contemporary. But pop-surrealism seems to be the one most people use, and, in part, that's because the artists will draw what people think of as surrealist imagery and certainly pop culture references. And I think the pop culture references within this world are a big part, because that kind of becomes a visual language everybody has a way into. Everybody's had an experience — good or bad — with McDonald's, everybody's had an experience with Mickey Mouse. So, you have artists who use characters like that, and it provides a way for people to get into the work a little bit.
How is pop-surrealism different from other contemporary art forms?
… (Pop-surrealism) is a return to form, to figurative work. And the amount of skill that a lot of these artists use in conveying messages and imagery is incredible. For a number of years, especially in America, abstract expressionism ruled the day … it was everywhere, the predominant force in American contemporary art.
As has been the case throughout history, you have movements that come along as a response. … This response was subversive. It started out in music clubs, hole-in-the-wall galleries, places where art wasn't normally seen — magazines, posters, those kinds of things. Then to have it rise up through the ranks and have it recognized by galleries and museums the world over, a lot of it is because of the technical skill these artists have displayed. And a lot of times they're doing it in a way that is completely accessible.
What draws you to pop-surrealism?
I think it's a really exciting movement. It seems to find a way to go in about a million directions. You have artists that do things that are humorous; some that do things that are grotesque or macabre. You have some that are, frankly, just strange. And so, I think the brunt of experiences you can have within the pop-surrealist world are fascinating.
Are there limits to pop-surrealism?
I would say that it's a movement that's still kind of being defined. You could trace it back to the 1950s and the 1960s especially, but here we are 50 years later, and I think there are still artists who are pushing the boundaries to what pop-surrealism is, what it can be. When it first started out, it was primarily concert posters and paintings that were being done on cars and on hot rods. And then artists like Robert Williams, who is largely considered the godfather of this movement and one of the standard-bearers, would make elaborately large paintings that would be shown in punk rock clubs, places that you would never expect to see art that 40 or 50 years later is being shown in museums. You would find this kind of work on the cover of skateboard magazines.
And so for a long time, it was scoffed at. It wasn't real. And through the work of these people, collectors began to see value in it, then museums and curators. But in terms of boundaries, I don't know that there's much.
Convince us to see the exhibit.
It's not art like you think. It defies the stereotype. In a show like this, where there are 60-plus pieces, there's not a theme where everyone will do something that's focused on this one word or term. You'll see sculpture, painting, photography, ceramics, printmaking, fabric, textiles. There's funny, there's weird, there's gross, there's strange, there's dark and scary. There's a lot for your mind to wander around and to think about. … I think pop-surrealism is a movement and a type of art that's incredibly exciting. And fun. Fun was a factor for us in pursuing this show. We, as a gallery, want to be an accessible place. … It's a part of our identity. And this show is a good way for us to stay true to that, while also introducing people to a style of work you don't normally see in southern Louisiana and artists from outside of the area.