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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection

Bridge Over the Cartesian Gap

Bridge Over the Cartesian Gap
signed, dated and titled 'Tansey 1990 'Bridge over the Cartesian Gap' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
87 x 108 in. (221 x 274.3 cm.)
Painted in 1990
Curt Marcus Gallery, New York.
Diane Keaton, Los Angeles.
Curt Marcus Gallery, New York.
Private collection, United States.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 12 November 2013, lot 55.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
J. Miller, "Mark Tansey: Curt Marcus Gallery" in Artforum, summer 1990 (illustrated, p. 166).
A. C. Danto and C. Sweet, Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, New York, 1992, pp. 110-111, 132 and 143 (illustrated in color).
M. Friedman, ed., Visions of America: Landscape as Metaphor in the Late Twentieth Century, New York, 1994, pp. 168-169 and 173 (illustrated in color, fig. 1).
P. Loubier, "Les Allégories de Mark Tansey au crepuscule du modernisme" in Parachute, 1998, vol. 91, p. 50 (illustrated in color).
M.C. Taylor, The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey and the Ends of Representation, Chicago, 1999, pp. 44-45, 47-49, 79 and 95.
New York, Curt Marcus Gallery, Mark Tansey, March 1990.
Kunsthalle Basel, Mark Tansey, April-May 1990 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Milwaukee Art Museum; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Boston, Museum of Fine Art and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Mark Tansey, June 1993-November 1994, pp. 52-53 and 114, no. 18 (illustrated in color).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Bridge Over the Cartesian Gap captures Mark Tansey’s mastery of monochromatic figurative painting with his definitive precision and quick wit. The artist’s methodically executed canvases often present complex ideas from history, literature, or philosophy, investigating different realities, and mixing together the conceptual with the formal, and the fictional with the metaphorical. Pictured in the present work is a monumental bridge of stone that floats impossibly above a delicate sky of clouds. Traversing across the bridge are several figures, each holding an object ranging anywhere from the mundane to the fantastical. One figure struts across with a larger than life canoe raised above their head; one dashes to the edge of the canvas, suitcase in hand; some partner together to hoist ladders and wheelbarrows across the sky; one figure even struggles at the start of his journey across, weighed down by the heft of another human being.
Close inspection reveals that the stone bridge is marked with quantities of text, the majority of which Tansey’s hand has obscured to the human eye. Of the small excerpts that are readable is the Belgian deconstructivist theorist Paul de Man’s Blindness and Insight, a text that probes the line between visual and textual representation. De Man argues that those who rely solely on the close reading of critical texts to discern meaning are blind to meaning itself, for the mechanisms of representation outside of text—those of visual representation—helps to inform meaning. Tansey engages this argument directly, refusing the viewer the ability to discern meaning from the text alone; in a practice of training the eye to look at all forms of representation to acquire knowledge, the viewer must grab elements of the text and consider them in relationship to the figures crossing the bridge. Here, we see Tansey playing with the viewer, denying them access to this textual knowledge, thus requiring the eye to discern meaning from the few legible words and the figurative elements in the work. As is consistent with Tansey’s working process, this play between writing and meaning is rooted in the artist’s wry and literalist humor, leaving viewers to contemplate larger theoretical discourses with canoes and piggy-back rides as their visual cues.
Painted in 1990, Bridge Over the Cartesian Gap is one of a remarkable series of paintings completed that year, when Tansey’s discovery of the graphic potential of texts and the textuality of paintings led to an extraordinary creative eruption. Since 1987, his paintings have interrogated post-structuralist ideas. His engagement with the history of painting was borne from the pervasive sentiment in the 1970s that painting was declared dead, favoring alternative methods of artistic creation. As a painter in a world where painting was dead, Tansey’s guiding aim was to make pictures about picture making and the capacity of painting to synthesize larger discourses.
Tansey’s chosen medium is nearly as exacting as fresco. He starts by applying a consistent layer of gesso to the canvas, then covering that base with a layer of monochromatic paint, in the present lot, a cadmium red. With painstaking attention to detail, Tansey employs various tools and techniques to wipe and scrape away at the monochrome layer, revealing varying hues of the gesso underneath and unearthing the composition within. Akin to a sculptor coaxing remarkable figurations from a block of marble, Tansey elucidates his figures and landscapes from layers of paint with an exacting, photorealistic precision. Miraculously, through a process of erasure—which typically raises notions of destruction—Tansey creates a fantastical and complex world. As the work dries, different forms and effects emerge that both incorporate time and temporality into his painting strategy. Bridge Over a Cartesian Gap is a physical document of Tansey’s process, illuminating both the artist’s mastery of skill and his innovative, critical approach to the history of painting.

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