Generic Art Solutions is the collaborative efforts of Matt Vis and Tony Campbell. This New Orleans-based art duo utilizes nearly every art medium as they examine the recurring themes of human drama and the (dis)functions of contemporary society. Always rooted in the performative, they play every character in their work. In their more distilled “duets” we see something of a yin and yang (a balance between individuals that aren’t quite interchangeable), but in their more elaborate stagings the resultant effect is as epic as the subject matter itself. By combining Classical, Romantic, and Baroque compositional elements with contemporary pictorial techniques, they manage to illuminate the common thread that connects past histories with current events. This strategy creates something of a “Déjà Vu effect” that is driven by drama and surreality with traces of levity. In this dialogue between the past and present the viewer realizes several things: 1) that the history of art is inextricably political, 2) that human behavior repeats itself no matter how tragic or brutal, and 3) that this cycle of repetition must be broken so personal and societal progress can be made. Despite all this, their work contains a glimmer of hope--a hope that through thoughtful examination (and armed with a commitment to change) we can indeed forge a better future.
Their “Video Portraits” (Caesar and Caligula, Power and Shame, Tin Soldiers, etc.) are certainly no less poignant, if less visually complex. Shot in black and white and viewed in pairs, the near-identical figures (again, played by Vis and Campbell) resemble “living human sculpture” struggling to keep their composure. These nearly motionless figures portray disciplined characters as they accept their fate before our very eyes. Consequently, these looped real-time observations provide the viewer a feeling of control as they stand in silent critique of society’s power figures and their eventual corruption.
Their public performances certainly contain their most humorous and irreverent commentary on the function of art and contemporary life itself. More absurd than comical, their performances engage the audience by playing carefully developed roles with a specific task at hand. Their best-known and longest-running performance is the “International Art Police”, or the “Art Cops”. Beginning in 2000, they have outfitted themselves in authentic police uniforms (complete with badges, police cruiser, and special ticket books) and have taken to the streets with the mission of “Safeguarding Art Communities Worldwide”. Dubbed a “Public Service Performance”, they patrol art galleries, museums, and events looking for suspicious art activities. They maintain professionalism with respect to their self-imposed duty, and issue a “Notice of Violation” only when both officers are in agreement. The list of infractions indicates that they don’t take themselves too seriously: “Too Art School”, “Formulaic”, “Too Trendy”, and “Even I Could Do That”, to name a few. Many artists familiar with their mission even request tickets at their openings, but although all fines are only $45, few artists actually pay. As in the rest of their work, the underlying message reminds us that every action has its consequences whether we address them or not.
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