It takes a lot of nerve to mess with Goya, Delacroix and Caravaggio. But Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, a.k.a. Generic Art Solutions, don’t simply tweak the Old Masters in the manner of Marcel Duchamp’s mustache and goatee on the “Mona Lisa.” The New Orleans duo stages elaborate photographic parodies of famous paintings, starring themselves and often making raw political statements.
The team’s tableaux, now at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, are uncanny simulations of the original artworks’ visual opulence. The two artists play all of the roles in their restagings of highly recognizable crowd-scene canvases such as Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Some of the pictures are more faithful to the originals — the remake of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat” simply adds a prescription pill bottle. But the duo’s version of Goya’s “The Third of May 1808” (retitled “Border Patrol”) alters both the composition and the subject, turning the painter’s indictment of Napoleon’s troops into a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
Vis and Campbell also are performance artists. Their “International Art Police” routine is echoed in an update of Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ,” in which Jesus is being arrested by flashlight-wielding cops. Here, the immediacy of performance yields to fastidious compositional and photographic skills. Throughout Vis and Campbell’s works, the figures, lighting and shadows are impeccably integrated, even when one of the men is playing the role of John the Baptist’s severed head.
Although the duo’s name may seem self-mocking, it’s based on the less derogatory connotation of “generic” in Britain, Campbell’s homeland. Still, the sense of art as a cultural product doesn’t seem quite right. Even when Generic Art Solutions reworks a painting that has been reproduced a million times, the artists give it a new and often provocative spin.
Generic Art Solutions On view through Nov. 29 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. www.crossmackenzie.com.
The largest piece in Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann’s “Feverland” is more than 20 feet wide and occupies nearly the entire length of Project 4 Gallery’s longest wall. The D.C. artist’s “Scaffold” combines ink, paint, etching and woodcut, and its gray-green hues, watery textures and tendril-like shapes bring to mind vegetation. Her mixed-media work suggests a species of vine that will stretch to occupy any available space. Mann describes the style as “organic, even cancerous.”
When the drawing-paintings grow large and unruly — and there are smaller, starker ones as well — their profusion and diversity also expand. Mann contrasts thinned ink with acrylic paint so thick that it takes on sculptural qualities. Sometimes, she emphasizes the spiraling forms by cutting out the paper, leaving a perimeter that echoes the lines and masses she has laid down. This show also includes an uncharacteristic piece, “Dripstone,” that contrasts Mann’s usual palette with bright yellow and her curvilinear forms with hard-edged vertical and horizontal bars.
Yet for all its variety, Mann’s art has an essential austerity that comes from the use of charcoal-based sumi, the traditional medium of Chinese ink painting. She begins each piece with a stain, the result of watery ink drying on paper. The presence of that kernel, the single bud from which pictorial jungles flower, seems to calm even the most baroque of these extrapolations.
Feverland: Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann On view through Nov. 29 at Project 4 Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Third Floor. 202-232-4340. www.project4gallery.com.
When Gian Garofalo’s work first appeared at Long View Gallery, the Chicago colorist was paying homage to Washington stripe painter Gene Davis with multihued ribbons of heavy enamel paint ending in congealed drips. “In Rainbows,” Garofalo’s current show, may take its name from a Radiohead album, but it still relies on Davis (who died in 1985). The selection features more of the dripped stripes, as well as flatter paintings with broader bands of color. These move Garofalo even closer to his predecessor’s style, although they alter the formula by being rough around the edges — a level-planed equivalent of the other pictures’ dangling droplets.
There are other variations here, including works on paper that contrast paint with crayon, a set of vintage soft-drink crates embellished with stripes and plaid paintings whose intricacy is impressive yet doesn’t delight. Garofalo’s thicker paintings verge on plastic relief sculptures, a resemblance he has elaborated into 3-D pieces that feature the unmistakable head of a certain cartoon mouse. One piece distributes Mickeys across a plastic expanse in the shape of the continental United States, with splashes of glossy paint and “this land was made for you and me” in individual letters. This construction may have the vivid colors that first drew Garofalo to acrylic and enamel pigments, but his latest pieces suggest he’s most interested in the shape and shine of plastic.
Gian Garofalo: In Rainbows On view through Nov. 30 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. www.longviewgallery.com.
Different subjects inspire different formats for D.C. photographer Alexander Vasiljev. The wide images in “Wicked Maine,” at Watergate Gallery, are traditional coastal landscapes in muted, misty whites and grays, sometimes punctuated by a red hull, shed or jacket. The squarish ones in “Spring in Black & White,” at Washington Studio School, are minimalist flower arrangements on blank backgrounds, emphasizing and abstracting form.
It’s too simple to say that the photographer’s Maine is horizontal and his spring vertical. There are uprights in the former pictures, including that traditional seascape feature — the lighthouse. And the latter set includes “Flower City Plan,” in which stalks are arranged in a grid. The principal distinction is that the landscapes, including one that’s black and white, observe the world, while the florals manipulate it. What the two series share are precision and control. Even when waves are crashing on a breakwater, Vasiljev has mastered whatever’s inside his frame.
Alexander Vasiljev: Wicked Maine and Spring in Black & White On view through Nov. 29 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-4488. www.watergategalleryframedesign.com. And at Washington Studio School, 2129 S St. NW. 202-234-3030. www.washingtonstudioschool.org.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.