Archive for November 21st, 2022

The pink cape

Mark Tennant

It’s a lovely candid moment, a young woman pausing to study a Manet at the Metropolitan. It’s one among a series of paintings Mark Tennant has done from what could be a field trip of female students milling through the museum. It seems to eschew his typically prurient or declasse subjects, a departure for Tennant whose metier is mostly a dour and slightly Calvinist glare that exposes the seamier precincts of human desire and behavior in depressingly raw terms. His subjects range from streetwalkers, cocktail parties that look like clueless celebrations in the eye of the social hurricane in the 1960s (or in Portland and Seattle, circa 2020), Zsa Zsa Gabor’s driver’s license pic, moments of drunkenness, public making out, many many exposed teenage legs going up and down stairs or posing in a variety of places that make them seem Spring Breakishly available for mischief, and a killer under arrest viewed in Gerhard Richter black-and-white. Most of these are photographically sourced from flash-lit freeze frames, offering him black outlines that push his figures forward. Much of it seems a dark celebration of the despised male gaze skulking at the edge of legality. What a relief to see a well-behaved girl tamed by the greatest of the Impressionists. But wait. Even here, if you try enough search engine queries, it turns out the Manet has a little transgender touch that pulls the knowledgeable viewer out of the comfort zone and into the present: Mademoiselle V in the Costume of an Espada. A young woman as matador, drag king in mid-19th century Paris.┬áIn his sly au courant way Tennant has stuck to his program: the notion of normality is a relic. It was on the wane already back then at the birth of modernity, when Manet’s nude enjoyed lunch on the grass with a couple fully dressed men. By contrast, the subject matter is what’s least interesting with Tennant, but it appears to bring him a huge following, a Pamplona stampede of fans if you check his Instagram. I suspect the seedier side of his imaginative home is a decoy. Like that pink cape, it draws you close enough for his brushwork to slay you. Those killer marks recommend him to anyone who paints.