Surrender at Breda by Velazquez
Triumph of the New York School by Mark Tansey
Velazquez (1599 - 1660) painted this great painting which depicts a Spanish victory over, I think, the Dutch. One thing that is interesting is that the victor assumes a benevolent attitude toward the vanquished. Also notable are the forest of lances.
Velazquez was one of the greatest artists of all time, and not just because his paintings were so rich and beautifully painted. Velazquez is one of those artists who within the universe of his work seems to anticipate so much of what would come in art. Indeed, so much of what seemed revolutionary in the subsequent history of art had in some ways been anticipated by Velazquez. Manet, and through Manet, the Impressionists were greatly influenced by Velazquez. But more interesting to us now is the way Valezquez seems to anticipate postmodern playfulness. Las Meninas is the painting that most seems to embody this.
Mark Tansey is one of the postmodern artists who is inspired by Valezquez. Unlike post-painters like Mike Kelley, his medium is startlingly old-fashioned, which is certainly not discouraged by post-modernism, which in some ways encompasses art history. Art history is Tansey's subject, as well, but not in any direct way. He isn't painting pictures of Picasso meeting Braque for the first time, for example.
The painting here specifically references the Surrender at Breda. The Triumph of the New York School depicts the shift of the art world from Paris to New York as if a war had been won. The French are World War I soldiers and the Americans World War II soldiers. There are many things that could be remarked on in this excellent painting--the anachronistic lances, the importance of critics in the American camp--but what strikes me most is the way that war, and world events, shaped art history. France was weakened by World War I, and devastated by World War II. America grew economically and avoided being invaded by Germans, giving its artists a space in which to flourish. Indeed, many of the School of Paris fled to New York during the second World War.
For Tansey, then, art history is a mirror of actual history. Histories of art often leave this out, especially formalists histories. Tansey uses the classic form of the history painting to remind us that art history is a part of the history of humanity, not a thing apart.
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