Picture a deck of cards based on eye-mind-hand contradictions. To play the game, select some cards, shuffle them, and continue by finding new analogies. You make up the cards as you go. You perform the contradictions in order to realize or understand them. Sometimes new features or behaviors emerge. Sometimes it might seem as though the deck is infinite.
Gagosian is pleased to present Reverb, an exhibition of two works by Mark Tansey: a new oil painting entitled Reverb (2017) and Wheel (1990), a wooden sculpture.
Each of Tansey’s paintings is a visual and metaphorical adventure in the nature and implications of perception, meaning, and interpretation in art. Working with the conventions and structures of figurative painting, he creates visual corollaries for sometimes arcane literary, philosophical, historical, and mathematical concepts. His exhaustive knowledge of art history accumulates in paintings through a time-intensive process. Images are mined from a vast trove of primary and secondary sources assembled over decades—magazine, journal, and newspaper clippings, as well as his own photographs—which he submits to an intensive process of manipulation. The strictly duotone paintings have a precise photographic quality reminiscent of scientific illustration, achieved by applying gesso then washing, brushing, and scraping paint into it.
Through absurdist composition and intricate detail, in Reverb, Tansey draws unlikely associations between different modes of representation. At the center of a composition, a man and a woman in evening dress stand before a wall of framed pictures, engaged in conversation. The woman, reflected in a mirror, gazes out at the viewer while the man gestures towards her. In the images on the walls, drawn from magazines and newspapers, cultural icons—Woody Allen, Diana Vreeland, Marilyn Monroe, Groucho Marx, and many others—are seen, making similarly conversational and theatrical gestures. The frames recede, morphing into the swooping lines of diagrams drawn by physicist Richard Feynman. The diagrams, which describe the mathematical relationships of subatomic particles, speak to the connections that Tansey has set up between his principal figures. Meanwhile, Tansey’s own diagrams—critical notations for as yet unrealized paintings—are tiled beneath the couple’s feet. Reverb contains more than 150 collected images on the themes of reflection, symmetry, and perception that pervade Tansey’s oeuvre.
Nearly thirty years earlier, Tansey made the table-like sculpture, Wheel, as a way of devising new complexes for his paintings. Three concentric wooden circles rotate independently of one another. On top of each circle, he engraved a myriad of phrases such as “ideological butterflies” or “the archive.” As the circles rotate, phrases align in different combinations, producing statements to be translated into imagery. The wheel form continues to be essential to Tansey’s painting. In Reverb, for example, an image of a circular table features a flipped map of the United States on which Rhode Island, his place of residence, is marked with his signature.
Alexander Wolf guides us through a multilayered new painting by the celebrated artist.
Back to the Cave
Dorothy Spears writes on mountains and caves in the work of Mark Tansey, exploring themes of perception and process.
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, cocurated by Mark Tansey and Peter Drake, presented paintings by five Chinese artists alongside work by six 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.
April 19–25, 2023
Each of Mark Tansey’s paintings and drawings is a visual adventure that explores the nature of perception, meaning, and subjectivity. Working with the traditions of figurative and landscape painting, Tansey incorporates his expansive knowledge of history in layers of literary, philosophical, and mathematical references. Distortions of perspective and scale combine with his technical proficiency to complicate what it means to view and understand an image.
Photo: DPA Picture Alliance Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Recent Paintings and Graphite Drawings
November 12–December 17, 2021
980 Madison Avenue, New York