about the exhibition

Mark Tansey

Triumph Over Mastery


Mark Tansey’s allegorical paintings address the meaning of art and the human impulse to make images. He pulls from a vast archive of visual material that includes his own photographs as well as clippings from magazines and newspapers. Often, as a way of determining the subject of his work, he spins the Color Wheel, a device of his own invention comprising three concentric circles set into a plywood frame, each with 180 words carved into its surface, to generate one of 5,832,000 possible three-word phrases. Arguing that representation has functions other than “capturing the real,” he has said that his work is about “how different realities interact with each other.” Rendered in a sepia hue, Triumph Over Mastery has a photographic quality, though its imagery borders on the surreal. Depicting figures in a landscape seeming to survey the monumental ruins of some ancient civilization, the scene perhaps dramatizes the human struggle to make original, important, and lasting work in the shadow of art history.

Mark Tansey (b. 1949, San Jose, California; lives and works in New York)
Triumph Over Mastery, 1986
Oil and pencil on canvas
59 7/8 x 144 1/4 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Gift of Steven and Patsy Tisch

Conflict is the easiest notion [from which] to begin developing narrative; one thing versus another. This can be tragic—one thing annihilates another—or comic—one thing versus another—but they end up together anyway. —Mark Tansey

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