Museum Visit

I’m standing in front of Anselm Kiefer, “Germany’s Spiritual Heroes,” at The Broad.

As I wandered along the polished concrete floor of The Broad, the path guided me into the adjoining rooms bared with white marble floor and pristine white walls parading modern artworks on the floor, on the walls, to the right, and to the left, artworks were displayed in all places. There were many collections of beautiful works to choose from, some I do not understand and many were mesmerizing. However, there were two pieces that were tugging at my heartstrings. I do not understand why I was attracted to the paintings. Was it the color? Could it be the image? Must it be the size? Whatever it is, the two paintings were picturesque.

“Achilles and the Tortoise,” Mark Tansey, 1986, oil on canvas, 111 x 76 in. (281.94 x 193.04 cm) at The Broad.

The artist is Mark Tansey and his two paintings are Achilles and the Tortoise, 1986, and Forward Retreat, 1986. Mark Tansey’s photographic quality paintings use a complex painting technique in which he applies a layer of monochrome paint and then alters the value of the hue by scraping away the paint. In the Achilles and the Tortoise, a large 111-inch by 76-inch oil on canvas in monochromatic blue depicts many prominent figures of the past century including Albert Einstein looks on as Princess Diana plants a ceremonial tree. Tansey uses of vertical and horizontal lines illustrate the symmetry of the dark blue towering pine tree and the pure white vapor trail of the rocket lures the gaze directly into the center of the painting. The pine tree standing stoically on the mountain captures by the horizontal line draws the attention to the figures below. In the distance, men are looking through binoculars pointing towards the rocket and one lonesome man stealthily looking through the binocular towards the serene tree planting ceremony. The blue color illustrates the somber message Tansey wants to convey the notion that modernism is carelessly moving quickly towards the future and many modern artists are looking desperately to the past to study the knowledge and technique of former artists to find clues.

“Forward Retreat,” Mark Tansey, 1986, oil on canvas, 94 x 116 in. (238.76 x 294.64 cm) at The Broad.

Similarly, in the Forward Retreat, a 94-inch by 116-inch oil on canvas monochromatic red depicts four horsemen wearing military uniforms of World War I are sitting on the opposite direction of their horses while the image of the men and horses are reflected upside-down on the surface of a lake. The horizontal line of the dirt covered with ruined artifacts draws the attention to the top center of the image and the broken vases, frames, and paintbrush of the past are strewn vertically in which draws the gaze down towards the inverted image of the Calvary. The red color illustrates the ominous message Tansey consistently wants to convey by the four horsemen looking through the binoculars blindly riding into the future facing backward while the horses are trampling over the debris of old broken art pieces while looking towards the past for ideas. Thus, Tansey is aware color elicit an emotional reaction and an emotional color makes the message being conveyed clearer because color appeals to people’s emotions and feelings. Subsequently, the Achilles and the Tortoise and the Forward Retreat have a resounding theme of Tansey criticizing the modern art movement in the shift away from realism and toward a Minimalist approach. To counteract the movement, Tansey creates his meticulous photographic quality paintings with meaningful figurative images and purpose. However, with all the similarity in the style, technique, and subject with the two paintings, there is a subtle difference between them. In the Achilles and the Tortoise, he signifies “hope” in the modern art movement through the ceremonial planting of the pine tree saplings. In contrast to “hope”, in the Forward Retreat, destruction and chaos are portrayed through the littered artifacts and the confusion of the military men riding in the opposite direction while the image of the men and horse are reflected upside-down on the surface of the water. Although I have picked Mark Tansey Achilles and the Tortoise and Forward Retreat, there were many interesting pieces of work that are also nudging against my heart. The labyrinths of passages at The Broad lead me to encounter a wide array of arts and artists that left me a little confused and ask the question “Why?”