The Washington Post

In the galleries: The Old Masters, with a photographic twist, at Cross MacKenzie

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.

Mark Jenkins