Spill (2010) is a video that depicts a trim garçon walking up to a man seated at a table. With a nod of deference, the waiter places the menu in the hand of the quiet patron. The waiter then grabs the tablecloth with both hands to perform that sleekest of tricks where the cloth gets pulled out from under the dinnerware. Swiftly he jerks it, sending plates and glasses crashing onto the floor.
This is a piece by Generic Art Solutions, a duo based out of New Orleans who deals in cheeky drama and ludicrous works of revisionism. They stage performances for a variety of contexts: for audiences, photo-shoots, and as living sculptures. They claim that themes of human dysfunction and folly repeat themselves throughout history, and that their work ties a thread between events of yore and today.
Generic Art Solutions, Marat, inkjet photograph, 2009; Courtesy the Mindy Solomon Gallery.
Currently on view at Mindy Solomon Gallery, Renaissance Men is an exhibition of G.A.S.’s work and consists mostly of a series of inkjet photos displaying staged recreations of canonical art works. This includes a re-enacted Death of Marat (titled Marat, 2009) where pill bottles on the side-table signify present day ODs; The Sacrifice of Isaac (2010) where Abraham and his son are replaced with a backwoods countryman pinning down another on the bed of a pickup truck; and The Raft (2010) – an updated depiction of Géricault’s famous work which, instead of the French frigate’s sailors, shows the surviving crew of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, who compose G.A.S., play all the characters in these reproductions. Though there’s humor in the works, it’s the kind that evokes tight smiles instead of outright laughter. And rather than pondering the connections between past and present in a novel way, I found myself struggling with the dry and obvious connotations that were presented.
Making fun of important art is nothing new – in some ways, it’s even a rite of passage into the system of contemporary art. It’s important that iconic works get mocked, parodied, and skewered, but the art that performs these necessary tasks should stand on their own. Generic Art Solutions’ photos are flat and lack the emotion that carries greater work, both in the performances and the stage executions. Perhaps this was intentional, but it seems that it isn’t, given that some of the photos have not-so-deadpan expressions.
Generic Art Solutions, Pushmi-Pullyu: The Collaborative Cycle, video, 2013; Courtesy the Mindy Solomon Gallery.
The pieces that had little or nothing to do with the canon of Western painting redeemed the show. Spill, the video with the garçon yanking the tablecloth, feels less forced and is veritably ridiculous, especially for the fact that the performance was carried out in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Another video piece, Pushmi-Pullyu: The Collaborative Cycle (2013), shows the two artists riding a custom-welded bicycle which seats both of them in opposing directions, one of them having to pedal backwards.
Though these two pieces don’t really address the parallels between the past and present – and the inherently political nature of all artistic work – they touch upon the absurdity lurking beneath everyday experience and decorum in a way that is entertainingly thought provoking.
(Image on top: Generic Art Solutions, The head of St. John the Baptist, 2008, inkjet photograph; Courtesy the Mindy Solomon Gallery.)