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.
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Title:The Innocent Eye Test
Artist:Mark Tansey (American, born San Jose, California, 1949)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:78 in. × 10 ft. (198.1 × 304.8 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Jan Cowles and Charles Cowles, in honor of William S. Lieberman, 1988
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)
New York. Grace Borgenicht Gallery. "Episodes," June 9–July 3, 1981, unnumbered cat.
Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale. "New Narrative Painting: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," February 9–26, 1984, no. 22 (extended loan and promised gift of Charles Cowles).
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture," May 17–August 19, 1984, unnumbered cat. (p. 302; lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Extended loan and promised gift of Charles Cowles).
Mexico City. Museo Rufino Tamayo. "Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York," November–December 1984, no. 25 (lent courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, extended loan and promised gift of Charles Cowles).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Second Sight: Biennial IV," September 21–November 16, 1986, no. 49 (lent courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, extended loan and promised gift of Charles Cowles).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The 1980s: A New Generation, American Painters and Sculptors," April 13–July 31, 1988, brochure no. 44 (lent by Charles Cowles).
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.
Vivien Raynor. "Art: Group Show by Seven at Borgenicht Gallery." New York Times (June 26, 1981), p. C26, ill.
Carter Ratcliff. Episodes. Exh. cat., Grace Borgenicht Gallery. New York, 1981, unpaginated, ill.
William S. Lieberman. Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York. Exh. cat., Museo Rufino Tamayo. Mexico City, 1984, pp. 4, 44, no. 25.
Lisa M. Messinger in William S. Lieberman. Nueva Pintura Narrativa: Coleccion del Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York. Exh. cat., Museo Rufino Tamayo. Mexico City, 1984, p. 44, ill.
Theodore F. Wolff. "Modernism Reigns at the New MoMA." Christian Science Monitor (June 4, 1984), p. 36.
John Dorsey. "Modern Museum Opens Wing With Survey Show." Sun (May 20, 1984), p. M4.
Lisa Mintz Messinger inNew Narrative Painting: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale . Fort Lauderdale, 1984, unpaginated, no. 22, ill. (overall and detail).
Theodore F. Wolff. "Painted Wit: The Many Masks of Modern Art." Christian Science Monitor (January 31, 1985), p. 38.
Suzanne Muchnic. "Old is Gold in 'Second Sight' at S.F. Museum." Los Angeles Times (October 12, 1986), p. T86, ill.
Graham W. J. Beal. Second Sight: Biennial IV. Exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. San Francisco, 1986, pp. 9, 61, no. 49, ill. p. 56 (color).
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".
Bryan Wolf. "What the Cow Saw, or, Nineteenth-Century Art and the Innocent Eye." Magazine Antiques 137 (January 1990), pp. 278–82, 284–85, ill. pp. 276–77 (color).
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.
Arthur C. Danto. "Art. Trompe l'Oeil." Nation 254 (May 4, 1992), pp. 603–4.
Ruth Bass. "Mark Tansey." Art News 91 (October 1992), p. 121.
Judi Freeman. Mark Tansey. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 54, 113, no. 2, ill. p. 56 (color).
Kenneth Baker. "Shards of Antiquity and Illustrated Jokes." San Francisco Examiner (July 4, 1993), p. 44, ill.
Christopher Knight. "Tansey's Talent to Amuse: Mid-Career Survey at County Museum." Los Angeles Times (June 22, 1993), p. F1.
Jody Zellen. "Mark Tansey." Art & Text 46 (September 1993), p. 91, ill.
Ralph Rugoff. "Art Hysteria 101: Mark Tansey Cracks Wise." LA Weekly (July 2–July 8, 1993), p. 35, ill.
Arthur Danto. "The Case of the Sacred Cows." Columbia (Spring 1993), pp. 29–30, ill. p. 28.
Christine Temin. "Tansey's Witty In-Jokes Matched with Enlightening Labels." Boston Globe (May 18, 1994), p. 73.
Nancy Stapen. "Mark Tansey: Seriously Funny." Art News 93 (Summer 1994), pp. 162–63.
Alexi Worth. "What's So Funny About Mark Tansey?" Art New England 15 (April/May 1994), ill. pp. 30–31.
Mark C. Taylor. The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey and the Ends of Representation. Chicago, 1999, pp. 16, 64–65.
Linda Hutcheon. The Politics of Postmodernism. 2nd ed. (1st ed, 1989). London and New York, 2002, p. 95.
Dr. Roland Mönig. Mark Tansey. Exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery. New York, 2005, p. 13.
Elizabeth Mansfield. "The New Iconoclasm." Art Journal 64 (Spring 2005), pp. 25–27, ill. (color).
Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei. "Trompe L'Oeil and the Mimetic Tradition in Aesthetics." Human Creation Between Reality and Illusion. Ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. Dordrecht, 2005, p. 89.
Agnes Heller. Immortal Comedy: The Comic Phenomenon in Art, Literature, and Life. Lanham, Md., 2005, p. 182.
Jean-Paul Maitinsky. Got Cow?: Cattle in American Art 1820–2000. Exh. cat., Hudson River Museum. Yonkers, N.Y., 2006, pp. 4–5, ill.
Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei. The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature. University Park, Pa., 2007, p. 234.
Florian Werner. Cow: A Bovine Biography. Vancouver, 2011, pp. 96–99, ill.
Ulrich Pfisterer. "Animal Art/Human Art: Imagined Borderlines in the Renaissance." Humankinds: The Renaissance and Its Anthropologies. Ed. Andreas Höfele and Stephan Laqué. Berlin, 2011, pp. 228, 231, fig. 7 (color).
Carlin Romano. America the Philosophical. New York, 2013, p. 122, discusses Ref. Danto 1992.
Adam Wolpa. "Paintings for Cows: Representations of the Real and the Possibility of Forgetting." Beyond the Bifurcation of Nature: A Common World for Animals and the Environment. Ed. Brianne Donaldson. Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014, p. 235.
Frances Guerin. The Truth is Always Grey: A History of Modernist Painting. Minneapolis and London, 2018, pp. 207–8, colorpl. 15, discusses the artist's use of grey tones.
Edward J. Olszewski. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: Kansas City's Shuttlecocks. Pittsburgh, 2020, p. 74, fig. 16.3 (color).
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