Ron English in front of his piece 'Cerebral Celebration.' Photo by Corey G. Crago

Pop culture, to state the obvious, is anything that falls within the zeitgeist of a particular society. Movies. Books. Music. Art. Technology. Even Politics. Pop Culture, in many ways, constitutes any aspect of the mainstream, that which we discuss around the water cooler. Pop culture can be mindless drivel, like any number of frivolous tween pop songs, or something that challenges our perception of certain events and people, such as the upcoming biopic Lincoln.

But what do we call art–typically one of the lions of pop culture–that aims to subvert and manipulate pop culture and underscore the absurdity of of the very things we as a society cling to? Is it meta-pop?

This idea came to me last night when I went to the opening of Ron English’s newest exhibition, “Crucial Fiction,” at the Opera Gallery NY in SoHo. “Crucial Fiction” is a collection of English’s most  intricate, diorama-like oil paintings, which combines pop-culture icons in the most contradictory of ways–like giving Marilyn Monroe Mickey Mouse breasts–in an attempt to subvert the sacred and blur the line between the crass and hallowed of the art world.

Crucial Fiction by Ron English opens to the public tomorrow and runs November 9–29 at Opera Gallery NY at 115 Spring Street, New York, NY, 10012. The gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 “Everything is pop culture,” English told me when I asked about his piece Cerebral Celebration, which caught my eye because Bart Simpson occupies the same space as the Creation of Adam. The world-renowned mural in the Sistine Chapel is not often thought of as pop culture. It somehow seems too significant to be classified as pop–pop is reserved for the likes of Miley Cyrus. There must be a better classification for the Creation of Adam.

But, in truth, there isn’t. If we define pop culture through the lens of what is popular, then the Creation of Adam surely qualifies. Yet, it seems sacrilegious to place Michelangelo’s masterpiece within a piece of art that also depicts the entire Simpson family and a McDonald’s restaurant that has been transformed into a tank.

But then again, if the goal is to be meta, if the goal is to underscore the absurdity of both pop culture and reality (which, if pop culture is all-encompassing, makes them the same thing) then isn’t such an odd juxtaposition quite clever?

Yes. And “Crucial Fiction” is filled with such appropriately inappropriate juxtapositions. There is Combrat Rising, for example, a portrait of a baby in clown makeup. The baby dons an army helmut with a peace sign  and crossbones, like a pacifist pirate flag. It is a contradiction within a contradiction. The baby also carries a guitar-machine gun, hearkening to Woody Guthrie’s gutiar-case message, “This machine kills fascists.”

Add in the psychedelic colors and plastic sheen of the characters in his pieces and English has created a particularly powerful message about pop culture mimicking real life and, in turn, real life mimicking pop culture.