DIna Goldstein's Fairy Tales For The Real World



Once dismissed as “pure juvenalia” and grouped in with the wilder edges of Lo-Brow Art, Pop Surrealism has become its own distinct movement and now draws both popular support and curatorial structure as it continues to shift the parameters of what makes for a “serious” piece of art. Dina Goldstein is a significant force in this scene – which also includes artists Mark Ryden, Marion Peck and Robert Williams – and it was illuminating to discuss with her how the undercurrents of much pop surrealist work – comic book culture, figurative storytelling and piquant humour – resonates in her own work. My article on Pop Surrealism puts the movement in context and illustrates its subversive appeal and deeper meaning to contemporary audiences.

 “The first curatorial survey of this raucous group was the 1992 exhibition “Helter Skelter” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. Led by Williams – who, along with R. Crumb, were Zap Comix artists hailed by the underground as grungeforce gurus – the show involved themes such as alienation, dispossession and violence. It was a ribald reckoning for a consumerist credo run amok. Hosted in the shadows of the Hollywood entertainment complex, the exhibition was a scandal. And a success.” 

– Barry Dumka  



Dina Goldstein's Fairy Tales For The Real World

Though still loose in its thematic structure and not always declared as an organizing principle by some of its leading artists, Pop Surrealism has nonetheless become a potent force in contemporary art. A street demonstration that turned into a mass movement. While its expression can be comical, carnal, kitschy, colorful and queer – its intent is plainly serious.


Pop Surrealism seeks to upend the long dry reign of minimalism and conceptual art and overcome abstraction’s denial of the expressive opportunities in figurative work. It wants to get beneath the surface of pop cultural identity and find the meaning and magic, the dark realities and wild enchantments latent in the common lay of the land. It’s a populist insurgency masquerading as a carnivalesque parade of lost souls. From the beginning, the critics begrudged its worth.


Now, twenty years on, the revolution is winning.


Pop Surrealism stems from the low brow art scene that grew up – or maybe never really grew up – in Southern California as America shifted to conservatism in the 1980s. That street art energy was too weirdly playful to be overtly political but it was still sending a message. New voices needed to be heard and a new visual language learned. At first institutional powers dismissed it as adolescent daydreaming. Mere juvenilia.


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