Mark Tansey

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Mark Tansey’s paintings conjure a dream world—that of someone who’s fallen asleep during a lecture on the history of Modern art. Haunted by the likes of Marcel Duchamp and Jacques Derrida, his work teems with disorienting encounters, seamlessly mixing references to old master compositions and Popular Mechanics. Nested within this dream world are the dreams of various 20th-century avant-gardes, which are alternately parodied and saluted in what amounts to a case study in transcendent ambivalence.

That Tansey seems stuck was evident both in his modest traveling retrospective, curated by Judi Freeman, and in a gallery show of recent work. For 13 years, Tansey has tirelessly milked the tension between his tinted, monochromatic realism—a style evocative of old-fashioned illustration and photography, and hence a supposed conveyor of “truth”—and the fictitious histories and fables he depicts. This

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