Tuesday, February 27, 2007

No Child Left

When the National Governors Association told Bush they were running out of money for children's health insurance, he told them to make better use of the money they had. Do you think he ever said this to Halliburton?

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Many Blogs of Gibert Hsiao

Gilbert Hsaio is a terrific painter who I met about a year ago when we both hung work in a show called Presentational Painting 3 at Hunter College. He's gone blog-happy, launching blogs about Op painting, Baroque Painting, Mannerist Painting, Tintoretto, and his own work. Another Blog about Sienese painting is in the works. Go, Gilbert, go!

Gilbert's going to be in a show called The Optical Edge at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, opening March 7th. This looks like it's going to really good; I'm planning to write about it here after it goes up.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Flower Alley

Flower Alley, 2006. Acrylic on panel, 16" x 48."

Flower Alley won the 2005 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. I considered naming the blog after him, but he lost by a nose to Nohasslatdcastle (metaphorically of course, this would never happen in real life).

I'm a sucker for flower paintings. Don't groan, there are some really good ones - the group of little flower pictures that Manet did on his deathbed are probably going to be the subject of a future installment of "Paintings I Like."

Other Subjects, pt. 1

Besides being a painter and a degenerate gambler, I'm also an unrepentant lefty and a jazz musician (I have a thing for Samurai movies, too, but I'll save that for another post). A few people have asked when politics and music are going to creep into the blog. Today is the day for the former.

When you're on the left, there are certain things that you get a little numb towards because of their ceaseless repetition, including (but not limited to): Legislation written by corporate interests and introduced by senators who are on the campaign-finance payroll (the bankruptcy bill is among my favorites), or massive tax cuts for billionaires and corporations, or trade agreements that crush domestic labor in favor of Asian or Latin-American underage sweatshop labor, or the way the major media barely covers these things.

But there are certain things that you can never get your mind all the way around, like the fact that we run torture chambers.

Tonight HBO is airing a new documentary on Abu Ghraib, and I hope a lot of folks see it. I'm always glad when things like this are addressed by a network that's associated with entertainment, because people are much more likely to watch it on HBO than on Frontline or CSpan.

Images move mountains. Lyndon Johnson, whose prowess as a politician is unrivaled, was no match for the images that started oozing out of Vietnam. I know we've all seen the Abu Ghraib pictures a million times, but now is a good time to take another look.

Yes, the Bush administration has effectively ended, but now we have to deal with the hangover. And among the many symptoms (the Iraq war comes to mind) is the fact that we're left with a law that legalizes torture. Many people say the law won't stand up to judicial scrutiny, including some members of congress who voted yes in order to appear tough-on-terror so they would be re-elected last fall. But that's a pretty flimsy consolation.

Congress needs to wipe this law off the books, but the new Democratic majority in the senate is having a difficult enough time approving a non-binding resolution on Iraq. I won't hold my breath, except of course if I find myself on a waterboard.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Look, I Just Want to Go to the Damn Track

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really look forward to heading out to the track in late March, at the first sign of spring. There might be a snag in my schedule, though. NYRA says it lost $3.9 million in January and $7.9 million in December, and claims it only has enough money to stay in business until mid-March. Rats.

NYRA (the New York Racing Association) is the not-for-profit that runs Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, and they are always in trouble. About a year-and-a-half ago, they managed to wriggle out of a deferred federal prosecution stemming from alleged money-laundering and tax evasion by mutuel clerks. This little victory didn't solve their financial woes though, and in November 2005, a plan was cooked up to install video slot machines at Aqueduct, which NYRA claimed would raise upwards of $400 million a year. They were supposed to be operational in late 2006 or early 2007 (read: now).

Apparently NYRA couldn't come up with an arrangement which was acceptable to the New York State Lottery Division, who still hadn't approved installation of the machines by last fall, after construction was well underway for their arrival at Aqueduct. So NYRA filed for bankruptcy in November of last year.

They get their day in court this week, but New York State says they shouldn't be allowed to file for bankruptcy because NYRA is sort of a government agency (semi-governamental? quasi-governmental?).

Weirder still, NYRA says it owns the land that the three tracks are built on; they have the deeds and have been paying property taxes on it since the franchise's inception in 1955, but New York State is claiming that the land is actually state-owned, and wants to get NYRA's case thrown out. The irony of course is that if the case is thrown out, New York State will have to bail NYRA out (and, one would think, pay them back the $450 million they've coughed up in property taxes over the last 50 years).

NYRA's franchise on the three tracks expires at the end of the year, and they came in a distant third in the bidding for a new contract. The front runner for the contract is politically-well-connected Excelsior Racing Associates. One of the excelsior partners is George Steinbrenner's son-in-law, Steve Swindal (no, really, that's his name).

Swindal was arrested for drunk driving in Florida last week, but a spokesman told the press the Mr. Swindal "apologizes profusely." I'm sure New York racing's troubles will be over one Mr. Swindal takes the reins.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

High Times, Hard Times

Today I saw "High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975" at the National Academy Museum here in New York. The show was curated by Katy Siegel with help from David Reed. It's been traveling, and this is its third and final stop.

I was going to write a review saying that I liked the show quite a bit even though this or that painter was not included, that the National Academy Museum was not a great venue, that I especially enjoyed the Dan Christensen and Lawrence Stoppard, and so on. But Roberta Smith already said many of these things, and I want to talk about something else.

What I hope is that this show is an acknowledgment, contrary to most of the canonical literature since the late 60's, that painting never really went away. Most people already know this, but when someone of rising stature like Katy Siegel says it, it goes a long way toward making it so.

When I was in grad school in the late 90's, the painting-is-dead crowd was still largely in charge. My crits often devolved into me making a case not for my own work, but for the relevance of abstract painting. How dull.

Painting seems, of late, to be "back" (although people have declared this almost as many times as they declared it dead). Obviously, painting never really died - there were always painters painting. But the supporting literature continually eulogized it; it became a primary talking point in the academic setting. This particular attitude about painting, which gained momentum in the late 60's and really started to harden in 70's, roughly coincides with time that artists with Master's degrees started hitting the scene. Do with that piece of info what you will.

But I've already gotten off track. Painting didn't perish, but what had largely died by the 70's was the "ism," which in any given period acted as a kind of glue to help point out the common traits in what was often varied artistic production. The death of the "ism" is not an altogether bad thing, because "isms" can quickly become tyrannical, exclusive, and ultimately academic. But this development left painters largely atomized, with the intellectual community droning on in the background about their obsolescence.

David Reed has always insisted there there was a much greater continuity, and refers to this academically imposed break in the history of painting as a kind of wound. "High Times" presents his case quietly; Siegel and Reed group the works in such a way as to point out their often subtle but undeniable commonalities. And the forward-looking aspects were hard to miss: Jack Whitten's smearing device precedes Richter's blurry abstractions by quite a few years.

The show's main problem was a very big theme and a relatively small size (about 40 pieces). In a recent interview in the Brooklyn Rail, Siegel says a lot of great work had to be left out because of space limitations.

So I have a question, and a subsequent request. Katy Siegel is a professor at Hunter. Ralph Humphrey and Ron Gorchov (both in the show) were professors at Hunter. While I was working on my MFA at Hunter, Elizabeth Murray (in the show) was considering joining the faculty. And I'm sure there are many other connections, as there have always been between the Hunter program and New York painters.

Where am I going with this? Hunter college has an 8500 square-foot gallery space on 41st St. Why on earth wasn't an expanded version of the show hung there?

And my request: Why can't this still happen at some point in the near future?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cobweb Castle

Cobweb Castle, 2005. Acrylic on panel, 30" x 23."

There are 38 paintings in the Circles and Stripes series, all from 2005/06, and they range from extremely small (two are only 5" x 5") to medium size (30" x 23" and 16" x 48").

I tend to think more about the space and atmosphere that I want to depict more than I do about figuration. The space in these pictures comes mainly from two sources: Venetian painting and computer-generated imagery.

The Venetians used high key, close value colors to get that incredible, invisible mist that pervaded the pictures. The Pastoral Symphony, by either Titian or Giorgione depending on who you believe, is a great example, maybe the best (this one will be featured in a future installment of "Paintings I Like").

The space in the current crop of 3D animation (Pixar and the like) really has my attention. The figures continue to get more and more more naturalistic with each new release, but in the end still look very fakey. But the space in between the figures is surprisingly convincing, to me it looks a lot like the space we all live in. That contrast - these little artificial and slightly robotic things running and jumping through this very believable space is a source of endless wonder. I've suffered through a bunch of inane movies (and in fairness, a few good ones) just to look at that space.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Much Easier Than I Thought

I start to pay much closer attention to horse racing in late March/early April, when racing returns to the main track at Aqueduct and the Kentucky Derby contenders start to come into sharper focus.

In the meantime, I've been surfing around the net trying to find tidbits for the blog, and I came up with a good one today.

Everyone who plays the Breeder's Cup knows that those eight races (11 this year) are a parade of longshots - very, very hard on the wallet. As it turns out, if you had simply bet the same amount to win on every single horse in the Breeder's Cup from 1999 to 2003, inclusive, you would have won money.

I couldn't find a more recent story working in the results from 2004 to 2006, but I'll bet the findings wouldn't have changed much. And to think I spent all that time handicapping those races just to lose my shirt.

Monday, February 12, 2007

High vs. Low

Something I think about quite a bit is the distinction between high and low, art and entertainment. The two polar views don't work for me at all; the one side insisting that high culture and mass culture are at absolute odds with one another, and the other side stating that there is no longer any distinction whatsoever. I think fine art and pop culture are in fact different, but it's a very slippery matter; one will almost always have characteristics of the other, and I've never really come up with a way to describe the difference which I found satisfying for very long.

The 2/5/07 issue of the New Republic has an article by Jed Perl about the overheated art market. He chimes in on the high/low debate in a way that I haven't thought of before, and I think I like it a lot:

"It is in the very nature of popular culture that its pleasures are the ones we share with a wide range of people simultaneously. And it is in the very nature of high art that its pleasures are ones that we experience as individuals. To insist upon this distinction is not to say that one experience is better and one is worse, it is only to clarify the character of each experience. The art in popular culture has everything to do with creating a work that catalyzes a strain of feeling in the mass audience. High art operates in a completely different way, for each viewer comes to the work with the fullest, the most intense, the most personal awareness of the conventions and traditions of an art form. The essential high art encounter is a private encounter - but we are living in the YouTube era, when people are often uncomfortable with privacy, with its challenges and its revelations. The intensity of the high art experience has everything to do with a disengagement from the pressures of the present. It is the unquantifiable experience par excellence."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Paintings I Like, pt. 2

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Oil on canvas, 125" x 109."

My wife and I were in Madrid recently and I finally got to see "Las Meninas" in the flesh. It's as good as everyone says it is, and so strange. There is almost nothing in the top half of the picture; just that mysterious, smokey air that Velazquez painted so convincingly.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lawrence the Who?

Once again my keen analytical skills have led me down the road to riches at the racetrack. Lawrence the Roman finished 5th out of 6 in the Whirlaway at Aqueduct today.

Jules Olitski, 1922-2007

Jules Olitski, Comprehensive Dream. 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 135" x 93."

Jules Olitski died last week. He really got tarred with the same brush as Greenberg (who was still being hanged in effigy when I was in grad school in the late 90's). But when those ideological wars eventually fade away, I think people are going to have to take another look at the work, especially the spray-gun paintings from the 60's. I saw a show of these at Emmerich right before the gallery closed (1998 if memory serves), and they really knocked me out; misty but still vibrant like Venetian painting and every bit as lush and decadent as Rubens at his most excessive.

I think it's customary for one of the big institutions to mount a large-scale retrospective when an important figure dies; it will be interesting to see if lingering resentment of Greenberg and late Modernism prevents this from happening.

Friday, February 9, 2007

2007 Derby Future Wager Revisited

I know I said I wasn't going to play the Derby future pool this year, but now I might. Don't tell my wife.

The first New York prep for the Derby happens this weekend at Aqueduct: the $65,000 Whirlaway for 3 year-olds at one-and-one-sixteenth miles. Lawrence the Roman looks extremely hard to beat here; he's going to open at 6-5, and his odds will certainly get even stingier at post time. It's only a six horse field, and the competition doesn't look that scary: Summer Doldrums fell flat in his one stakes attempt. Sports Town is really a sprinter. Pink Viper beat Johannesburg Star in the Count Fleet, but he also took six tries to break his maiden. Plus Edgar Prado is going to fly up from sunny Florida to ride Lawrence on the frozen inner track at Aqueduct, which to me is a ringing endorsement.

I'm not going to spend dollars to make nickels in the Whirlaway, but in the Derby pool he's currently at 19-1; a very square price. I'm sure that's going to drop if he crushes the Whirlaway as expected, but I'll bet it doesn't go below 12-1.

OK, so why do I think this largely untested New York bred stands a chance in the Derby running against proven graded stakes types? Not only is he undefeated, but he's making everybody he races look silly. He's won his three races by a total of more than 25 lengths. There's no telling what this horse's actual class ceiling is - he might wind up being solid G2 horse and nothing more, but he might be a monster. At 19-1, I'll take a little stab at the latter. Maybe.

Paintings I Like, pt. 1

Edouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, 1869. Oil on canvas, 99" x 119."

Pulling off a political painting (or political art generally) is a tricky business; it can become preachy or corny or strident so easily. This is one of the best examples I can think of, and it was great to finally see it in person at MOMA last year.

Someday I'm going to have posters like this made for exhibitions of my work (and charge two bits to get in):

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Current Shows

Some paintings from the "Circles and Stripes" series are currently up in two large group shows. Two pictures, including "BC Juvenile" (shown above, acrylic on panel, 8.5" x 10.5"), are in War is Over at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg until 3/4/07.

I also have a picture in Small Works at NYU's 80 Washington Square East Galleries, which will be up until 3/9/07.

2007 Derby Future Wager

The first of three Kentucky Derby future pools opens today. There's some nice odds to be had, but I'm going to pass on it this year - I put in a bet on Stevie Wonderboy last year and he fractured his right front leg moments after I hung up the phone. I wasn't upset, though, it's only a game.

Some folks are getting excited about Nobiz Like Shobiz, but it seems like the correct bet is "none of the above."

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Little Painting and a Slow Horse


This is a painting called "No Hassle at the Castle." It was done in 2005, which is the year I got back into painting in a serious-minded way. It's quite small: 10.5" by 8.5," acrylic on panel.

The painting and this blog are both named after a racehorse, (whose actual name is Nohasslatdcastle). He's a pretty unremarkable claimer, 4 years old. in his last race (the 8th at Aqueduct, 1/10/07), he went off at nearly 60 to 1 and finished last. Here's his pedigree.

I thought about naming the blog after a horse I really like (Ghostzapper, Lost in the Fog, Lava Man), but No Hassle won out in the end; I can't resist a great turn of phrase.