Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Innocent Eye Test

Mark Tansey (American, born San Jose, California 1949)
Oil on canvas
78 x 120 in. (198.1 x 304.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Jan Cowles and Charles Cowles, in honor of William S. Lieberman, 1988
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© Mark Tansey
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 915
In this wry painting, a cow stands in front of Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull, 1647, now at the Mauritshuis, The Hague, while the human experts wonder if the cow can distinguish artifice from reality. Will she bellow a greeting, or admire Monet’s Grainstack (Snow Effect), 1891, on the wall to the right? Tansey offers this critique of the role of representation in modern art as a method of revitalizing the tradition of painting. His use of grisaille, or grey monochrome, relates to the tradition of academic painting but also to his job as an illustrator for The New York Times. Such strategies of appropriation define much of the art of the 1980s in New York, where Tansey still works.
Charles Cowles, New York (by 1983–2001; jointly with MMA , 1988–2001; 1992–2001, jointly with his mother, Jan Cowles); Jan Cowles, New York (2001–11; jointly with MMA, 2001–11; gift to MMA)

Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale. "New Narrative Painting: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," February 9–26, 1984, no. 22.

Oaxaca. Museo Rufino Tamayo. "New Narrative Paintings: Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November–December 1984, no. 25.

Mexico City. Museo Rufino Tamayo. "Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York," November 1–December 31, 1984, no. 25.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The 1980s: A New Generation, American Painters and Sculptors," April 13–July 31, 1988, brochure no. 44.

Kunsthalle Basel. "Mark Tansey," April 29–May 30, 1990, unnumbered cat.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Mark Tansey," June 17–August 29, 1993, no. 2.

Milwaukee Art Museum. "Mark Tansey," September 10–November 7, 1993, no. 2.

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. "Mark Tansey," December 9, 1993–February 20, 1994, no. 2.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Mark Tansey," May 11–August 7, 1994, no. 2.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Mark Tansey," September 8–November 20, 1994, no. 2.

Lisa M. Messinger. Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York. Exh. cat., Museo Rufino Tamayo. Mexico City, 1984, pp. 24, 44, ill.

Lisa M. Messinger in "Twentieth Century Art." Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1987–1988. New York, 1988, pp. 68–69, ill.

Thomas Kellein. Mark Tansey. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle Basel. Basel, 1990, unpaginated, ill. (color), calls it the artist's "first great work".

Arthur C. Danto. Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions. New York, 1992, pp. 16–18, ill. p. 35 (color).

Arthur C. Danto. Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post–Historical Perspective. New York, 1992, pp. 15–17, 29, ill. p. 14.

Judi Freeman. Mark Tansey. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 54, 113, no. 2, ill. p. 56 (color).

Dr. Roland Mönig. Mark Tansey. Exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery. New York, 2005, p. 13.

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