Dark Metropolis — Irving Norman’s Social Surrealism

Dark Metropolis

Irving Norman’s Social Surrealism

Oil painting by Irving Norman 

This exhibition, produced on the occasion of what would have been Irving Norman’s 100th birthday (1906-1989), features paintings that remain as poignant and relevant today as when they were first created. Norman’s monumental paintings reflect a troubled and turbulent world. His works teem with detail and are populated with swarming, clone-like humans. People are constricted by small urban spaces and modern technology, caught in the crunch of rush hour, and decimated by poverty and war. Shocking, revealing and profound, the paintings aim, as Norman himself described, “to tell the truth of our time.”

The Social Surrealism of Irving Norman by Mark Vallen

Dark Metropolis: Irving Norman’s Social Surrealism, is an extremely important exhibition of paintings just opened at the Pasadena Museum of California Art and running until April 15th, 2007. Until his death in 1989, Irving Norman had painted in California since the early 1940’s – and my having discovered the art works of the brilliant artist only a few years ago is a testament to the state of a blinkered art world. The irony of my discovery is that it wasn’t facilitated by a fellow artist or an art historian, critic or journal, but by a political activist who wrote to me one day in November of 2003 to ask if I had ever heard of the painter. Embarrassed by my unfamiliarity with the artist, I did a bit of research on Norman and was astounded at what I found.

Michael Duncan, a curator of contemporary art and corresponding editor for Art in America, wrote a July 2003 article for that magazine in which he described the paintings of Norman as “jaw-droppingly effective social indictments that would have been endorsed by Orwell and Huxley. The unrestrained passion and monumental energy of this work blows most contemporary political art out of the water.”


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