"Pop Surrealism." (Exhibit at Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art)

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ALDRICH MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

Sprawling through Ridgefield, Connecticut's Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, "Pop Surrealism" proves one point above all else: at the end of the century in the visual arts, invention is a form of debt. The mutant sensibility at work in this droll, smartly curated exhibition proposes the marriage of Surrealism's dream-laden fetish for the body eroticized and grotesque and Pop art's celebration of the shallower, corrosively bright world given over to the packaged good.

The smartness of "Pop Surrealism" is in its adept nose for sniffing out a sensibility that has taken root so widely that probably no survey show of the zeitgeist, intentional or otherwise, can avoid it. Indeed, this particular exhibition is a clever complement to 1992's "Post Human," in which curator Jeffrey Deitch put forth the tech-savvy notion that the rush of modern life and its body-changing arts (plastic surgery and gene splicing among them) are fast-forwarding us into "a bold realm of artificial evolution." "Pop Surrealism" takes up that suggestion in shrewd stride.

Of course, both Surrealist and Pop impulses have stubbornly reappeared like vital strains for many years - and not only in art but in films, in advertising, in rock videos. Surrealism's scabrous shock of unconscious desires made visible has become common fare for generations that nod off nightly in front of the madcap, hallucinatory special effects of MTV. Breton's 1924 manifesto to make an art "in the absence of any control exercised by reason, and beyond any aesthetic or moral preoccupation" pales beside real images of Bosnia's veritable Inferno, while the newest science pops out clones like so many Marilyns staring from a portrait multiple by Warhol.

Sired by this odd art-historical couple, the work gathered for "Pop Surrealism" by Richard Klein, Dominique Nahas, Ingrid Schaffner, and Harry Philbrick (the Aldrich's director) is all worldly knowingness, with a taste for the antic and macabre. There is a generalized notion that informs this art: that technology is both sinister and silly. It feeds images that picture bodies, objects, and the world itself as madly reconfigured. There is a broad humor here, with its own peculiar sort of undertow, an undertow heavy with cynicism about technological advance and the Pop-inflected transformation into product of everything under the sun. Common pieties though these politically correct sentiments may be, so much of this art smirks as it bleeds, prompting laughter of disbelief and a lacerating mordancy in equal measure.

The show is divided in three, with galleries devoted, as Philbrick says in his catalogue introduction, to "the grotesque body; surrealist icons of popular culture; and surreal comics and the influence of 'low art' underground comics on 'high art. …