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"Messin' with the Masters" Remixes Art History at Mesa Contemporary Arts

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So much for that dire prediction. Mesa Contemporary Art Museum's "Messin' with the Masters" gathers together the work of contemporary artists from around the world who have, for the most part, skillfully appropriated iconography and styles from acknowledged masterpieces to give dissimilar, often satiric, meaning to their own art. Yes, the iconic Mona Lisa, Grant Woods' American Gothic, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper inevitably pop up in "Messin'," but so do classic Japanese Buddhist and Hindu sculpture and the golden glow of pre-Raphaelite paintings. For the most part, the show eschews mere knockoffs, concentrating on work that twists easily recognizable images in fresh ways.

Not that all the work hits the top of the charts in the art world equivalent of Billboard. While Valley artist Larry Willis's La Italianas (2011), featuring Sophia Loren holding a Mona Lisa mask, tiny silk-screened, Andy Warhol Mona Lisa images and a large Ferrari logo, makes a statement about the contemporary meaning of Italian "imports," his Birth of Marilyn (2011) -- Botticelli's Venus on the half-shell swapped out for Marilyn Monroe in her classic pose from The Seven Year Itch -- is more of a one-note samba. Mona Citrus (2005) by Randy Slack is barely saved from being a mere cover rendition of the Mona Lisa by the insertion of citrus trees, trunks mysteriously painted white as they usually are in Phoenix, and a noticeable shiner on Mona, raising speculation that her enigmatic smile might actually be a grimace of discomfort. The poses of two young black men against a floral backdrop in Kehinde Wiley's massive canvas, Marechal Floriano Peixoto (2009), supposedly patterned after figures in a monument to Brazil's second president, are less heroic in stance and more, ahem, akin to kids messing around. Wiley's reference to this obscure Brazilian sculpture gets completely lost in translation.

And L.A. artist Mike Reynolds must be betting on future generations holding Justin Bieber up as a cultural icon, since his painting is patterned after a 16th noblewoman and child in which he swaps Bieber's face for not only the mother and child's, but renders it in candle smoke as well.

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Kathleen Vanesian