A painted picture is a vehicle. You can sit in your driveway and take it apart or you can get in it and go somewhere.
Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of recent paintings by Mark Tansey.
At first glance, Tansey’s distinctive paintings appear to depict straight narrative scenes, but closer scrutiny reveals an undercurrent of quirks and visual puns. By thus manipulating the conventions and structures of figurative painting, he creates corollaries for literary, philosophical, and historical concepts in visual allegories about the nature and implications of perception, meaning, and interpretation in art.
Growing up in a family of art historians, Tansey weaves an extensive knowledge of art history into his paintings through an exacting and time-intensive process. His images derive from an encyclopedic archive of magazine, journal, and newspaper clippings accumulated over many years, as well as from his own photographs. Selecting source images, he continuously photocopies them, stretching, rotating, and cropping them in the process. This results in a collage that serves as a preliminary study for a painting. Rendered in a single luminous hue, Tansey’s paintings have a precise photographic quality reminiscent of scientific illustration, which he achieves by applying gesso to canvas then washing, brushing, and scraping paint onto the smooth and unyielding surface.
For the works in the exhibition, Tansey has selected ultramarine, a color that combines the depth and complexities of black with the lightness and transparency of blue, and that imparts the historicizing feel of blueprint. His subject matter has expanded to include figures from political, philosophical, and economic history, as well as from art history. In EC 101 (2009) he traces the lineage of economic theory by inscribing human faces into a creviced mountain, à la Mount Rushmore, a structural device that recalls his earlier use of landscape to blur the traditional distinction between figure and ground. At the top of the mountain are classical economists such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill while the heterodox economists such as Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, and John Maynard Keynes are at the base. In a parallel narrative, Dante and Virgil stand in the lower half of this painting, which is a reversed image of the mountain. In The Divine Comedy Virgil guides Dante through Hell and Purgatory while Beatrice guides him through Heaven.
A 1994 exhibition hosted by Mark Tansey in his New York apartment foregrounded a dynamic approach to realism taking shape on the margins of an art world preoccupied with conceptualism. On display were works by four Chinese artists—Chen Danqing, Ni Jun, Yu Hong, and Liu Xiaodong.
Painters without Borders
The exhibition Figurative Diaspora, co-curated by Mark Tansey and Peter Drake, presented paintings by five Chinese artists alongside work by five Russian artists, all of whom create “unofficial,” subversive, non-state-sanctioned art, thus tracing the influences of art across borders.
Curated by Mark Tansey and Peter Drake of the New York Academy of Art, Figurative Diaspora presents works of “unofficial art”—subversive, non-state sanctioned art—created by five Soviet artists and five contemporary Chinese artists.
Alexander Wolf guides us through a multilayered new painting by the celebrated artist.
Recent Paintings and Graphite Drawings
November 12–December 17, 2021
980 Madison Avenue, New York