Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Madoff Goes to the Races

And I thought you couldn't con a racetrack guy. This story appeared in today's Albany Times Union:

SARATOGA — A hedge fund investor who poured millions into Saratoga's equine economy has abruptly stopped all new construction on his huge horse farm and wants to sell his thoroughbreds after losing some $7.5 billion in the Bernard Madoff scandal.

Jeffrey Tucker, the founding partner of Fairfield Greenwich Group, bought Stonebridge Farm in Schuylerville in 2004, and has since built New York's first track with a synthetic racing surface and indoor arena on the 188-acre farm. Tucker, 62, owns and cares for about 50 thoroughbreds on the site, considered one of horse racing's premier training facilities, and recently purchased a 230-acre satellite farm in Gansevoort.

Click here to read the whole sad tale.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aqueduct Results, 12/26/08

Adjustments had to be made for a muddy track, and I didn't get a slice of that big Pick 6, but a Grand Slam and the late Pick three made it a respectable day. I love this game.

Click here for today's results.

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 12/26/08

The holidays are a time to reflect on the things that are really important in our lives, like, for example, a $150,000 carryover in the Pick 6 at Aqueduct. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Here are Paulie's Picks for today's card at the Big A:

1st race:
1 - Hadrian's Image
2 - Api Mohkat
3 - Masterwork

2nd race:
7 - Father Tim
5 - Go Swiftly
4 - Manchild

3rd race:
9 - Street Talk
3 - The Ag
4 - Token Special

4th race:
1 - Brother of Gold
10 - Living Out a Dream
2 - Tony the Terio

5th race:
8 - Kamboo Man
5 - Bold Promise
4 - Smokin Warrior

6th race:
2 - Chauvinist
6 - Moment Sensor
8 - Knock Around Guy

7th race:
1 - Dynamite Jewel
8 - Linda's Baby
7 - Warrior Miss

8th race:
8 - M J's Enchanteur
4 - Noble Sound
7 - Raised for Speed

9th race:
1 - Cool Tales
8 - Ship's Piano
9 - Fly the North Wind

Tune in tonight for results.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Giant Deputy

"Giant Deputy," 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16."

If you're in the San Francisco area, stop by Hallway Bathroom Gallery and see the above painting in a group show called "Pattern." The show is up until 1/30/09, and the gallery is open by appointment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Aqueduct Results, 11/29/08



I'm quite happy to report that Professor Paulie's highly anticipated return to the races was a successful one. Click here for results.

Old Fashioned crushed the Remsen Stakes for two-year-olds, improving his record to 3-for-3 and making him one of the early horses to watch for next year's Derby. Six months is an eternity in horse-racing, though - they were saying the same thing about Pyro and War Pass at this time last year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 11/29/08

College professoring has kept me away from races for quite a while, but I'm going to sneak out to the Big A tomorrow for the closing weekend on the main track. It's a rough card, full of wide-open races for maidens and two-year-olds. But far be it from me to shrink from a challenge, and after all, it's only money!

Here are Professor Paulie's picks for tomorrow's Aqueduct card:

1st race:
2 - Handsome Reward
9 - Globalization
7 - Reptilian Smarts

2nd race:
1 - Robachino
8 - Giant Ryan
11 - Strong Impact

3rd race:
8 - Thisonesforruthie
10 - Charge It
2 - Great Debater

4th race:
10 - Dubinsky
2 - Quality Road
5 - Copper Cascade

5th race:
8 - Winloc's Saint Ray
10 - Fortissi More
11 - Hoist the Gala

6th race, The Demoiselle, G2:
5 - Sky Diva
2 - Ain't Love Grand
4 - Springside

7th race, The Remsen, G2:
6 - Old Fashioned
2 - Idol Maker
7 - American Dance

8th race, The Cigar Mile Handicap, G1:
5 - Tale of Ekati
1 - Visionaire
9 - Kodiak Kowboy

9th race:
5 - Radical Sabbatical
2 - Forever My Friend
4 - Moon Ala Mode

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 25

Joan Miro, "Mural Painting," 1951. Oil on canvas, 75" x 334."

A central issue in abstract painting is what to do about figure and ground. In the post-war years, the dominant strategies were to eliminate it altogether (as in color field), or to make the figure into a kind of overall swarm that transformed into ground (like Pollock and early Poons). If you wanted to keep the old-fashioned figure/ground relationship, you had approach it differently - you couldn't just make squares and squiggles that were stand-ins for the people, trees, and mountains of representational painting and then allow them to dangle there, unattached to the ground in a a meaningful way. Some individualized bargain with this problem had to be struck. Miro's method was to leave parts of the figures hollow. You can see through them to the ground, and they seem to pinch sections of the ground up through the open parts the figure, right up to the picture plane. It's brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness.

Upstairs from this painting's home in the lobby of MoMA, there's an exhibition of Miro's work from 1927-1937. The title of the show is "Painting and Anti-Painting," and the rhetoric of the supporting material, much of which was generated by the artist himself, is all about the subversion, murder, and renunciation of painting. I didn't see a single thing in the show that was hostile to painting. Miro was restless to be sure; eager to expand the boundaries and resistant to the idea of a signature style. But put up against Duchamp's readymades which were produced in the decade prior to the works in the Miro show, these pictures actually seem like an embrace and reinvigoration of the medium.

I've always felt that almost any animating principle can be made to function if that's the thing that gets an artist to go to his studio every day, even if that thing does not, in the end, desribe his or her work adequately (or at all). I think this is the case with Miro's stated desire to assassinate painting. The works communicate the absolute opposite of his putative intention: that he loved, revered, and nurtured painting.

The show is great, and it stays up until January 12, 2009.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Michael Brennan at 210 Gallery and P.S.1

Michael Brennan, "Twin Stars with Sirius White Line," 2008. Oil and wax on canvas, 21" x 32."

I've been a fan of Michael Brennan's paintings for a long time, and have always felt that he was generally under-recognized. Brennan is a painter who came of age during the lengthy "painting-is-dead" era, but recognized that there was still a lot of usable stuff in the wreckage of modernism; his work looks back on the history of 20th century abstraction, but has always belonged to his own time. It's a rare treat to be able to see new work in two places at once, but now's your chance, with one show hanging in Brooklyn and another in Queens.

To my eye, a primary aspect of "Twin Stars with Sirius White Line" and "No Second Troy" at 210 Gallery, and "Double Daimajin" at P.S.1, is a fresh take on Hans Hofmann's famous "push/pull" theory of abstract pictorial space. The theory is simple enough; the inescapable illusionism of painting is constantly counterbalanced with and undermined by motifs that aggressively emphasize the two-dimensionality and materiality of the picture plane, and, when deftly assembled, continually toggle between these two states in the eye of the viewer.

The horizontal bands on the bottom of all three pictures provide the lion's share of the "pull" up to the picture plane, doing all of the modernist stuff that stripes do: emphasizing flatness and echoing the top and bottom framing edge. The "push" is what make Brennan's paintings distinctly modern. His illusionism stems from a mysterious process of paint and wax application that at once identifies itself as a kind of gestural abstraction and simultaneously achieves an oddly photographic, back-lit spatial illusion. The swirling ghosts in the waxy upper portions of the paintings clearly organize themselves into figure/ground groupings; one on each side with a space in the center. This is a nice visual surprise, because the figure and ground, such as it is, is made of the same stuff, and the ribbons of that stuff are roughly equal in scale. What at first appears to be pure gestural improvisation reveals itself to be something more rigorous than meets the eye.

And there is another layer of illusion to Brennan's paintings aside from the pictorial space articulated by the gestures: The surface that the viewer is pulled back to doesn't give a stable account of itself as Hoffman's canvas and paint, but quickly transforms into the picture plane that looms largest over our era: the screen. The small scale of the pictures squarely references the ubiquitous laptop, and the liquidy, dissolving forms created by Brennan's process strongly evoke the CG aesthetic without specifically looking like a Pixar movie or video game.

Gestural abstraction is notorious for being a metaphor for the artist's interior state; the ultimate self-portrait. After the second generation of abstract painters (the so-called "Tenth Street" painters), the enterprise was largely condemned to ridicule, the pictorial equivalent of over-acting. Michael Brennan belongs to a small group of painters who have managed to reinvent gesture in such a way as to completely circumvent the agony content and make it function with the formal efficiency of geometry. In his pictures gesture is a motif instead of an autobiography.

The swirls in the pictures don't necessarily look like they were created by a person. They could easily be imagined as a natural occurrence (like oil dropping into water) or as a photographic, mechanical, or computer process. The benefit of this level of remove is that the viewer is able to engage the picture as opposed to the artist. Paradoxically, I think this makes for a greater intimacy; the viewer can relate directly to the thing itself instead of seeing it as a surrogate or stand-in for the maker, and can feel the freedom to explore its space, surface and contours without a biographical sub-text. And the viewer's uninfluenced gaze is richly rewarded; within the confines of these small-size pictures there's an awful lot to look at.

"Simple" at 210 Gallery is up until December 5th, and the gallery is located at 210 24th At. in Brooklyn. "Minus Space" at P.S.1 is up until January 26, and the museum is located at 22-25 Jackson Ave. in Queens. I highly recommend both.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Curlin v. Ted Stevens

Today it was revealed that one of the jurors from Alaska Senator Ted Stevens' recent trial for corruption lied about her father's death in order to get off of the jury before the end of the proceedings. Her father, as it turns out, is alive and well and living in North Carolina.

So what was the real reason that Marian Hinnant wanted to leave the trial early? So she could make it to the Breeder's Cup at Santa Anita! Finally, a citizen with a sense of priorities, even if she is a poor liar.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The 2008 BC Classic: Raven's Pass Like a Freight Train in the Lane



I really wish the Champ could have ended his stellar career on a high note, but what a move by Raven's Pass - he certainly earned his pay.

So hats off and farewell to the original Camium Orange horse. $10,000,000 earned in short two years, and a luxurious life of oats and mares before him; who could ask for more?

The 2008 Breeder's Cup Classic

Playing favorites in the Breeder's Cup races is about as wise as making toast in the shower, but what can I say? Today is Curlin's last race, and he's my hero right now. I'm going to single him in the Pick-4 and probably a Pick-3 as well.

It's not a bet based strictly on my heart, I just don't think any of the other contenders are quite up to the task for a few reasons. Henrythenavigator, Raven's Pass, and Duke of Marmalade (who is my current nominee for Best Name of the Year) all look strong, but Euro invaders tend to do better at the East Coast tracks - the California heat doesn't agree with them, and it's supposed to be 90 degrees at Santa Anita today. Also, Henry (the strongest of the three) and Raven's Pass are natural milers, and they're going to have to deal with two extra furlongs today.

This leaves Go-Between, who only just notched his first G1 victory, and Casino Drive, coming back from an injury after having to sit out the Belmont Stakes. At a morning line of 8-1, Go-Between seems like an underlay. He's a strong G2 horse, and even though he's improving, I wouldn't touch him for less than 12-1 in a field of this caliber. Casino Drive is an intriguing semi-longshot (a morning line of 10-1) but if he rolls home, I'll take it like a man. Student Council is listed at 20-1 in the morning line which means he might be worth a side bet, but these are deep waters and it's hard to imagine him taking this. Much stranger things have happened in the Breeder's Cup, though.

Something that's bolstered my confidence in formful results is last night's card. The recently expanded BC has five races on Friday. Of the five, the favorites came home twice, the second choice came home once, and the longest shot to cross the line was 11-1. Of course, this is not a guarantee of un-wacky results today.

Tune in to ESPN at 5:45 for live coverage. Tune in to No Hassle at the Castle later tonight for some lame excuses.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bedtime for Democracy

A very short open letter to the New York City Council:

Shame on you.

Sincerely,
Everyone in NYC who voted for Term Limits

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bloomberg to Democracy: Drop Dead!

I went down to the spirited hearing on term limits at City Hall last night, and predictably, the dominant opinion of the witnesses was against the repeal of of the law. I think it's going to get torpedoed anyway; it was clear that many council members are relishing the possibility that they could serve twelve years instead of eight (at $112,500 a year, plus benefits).

The amazing thing was the pattern of argument adopted by the council members and the witnesses who wanted to see term limits overturned: They essentially said that the voters chose wrong in '93 and '96 and needed to be corrected. Hmmm. This logic could then be applied to any number of publicly-approved laws that the city council doesn't like, I suppose.

Where does democracy fit into all this? Those arguing in favor of overturning term limits said that the current law deprives the electorate of the choice to vote for an incumbent, and that this is grossly undemocratic; that what they were actually arguing for was a restoration of true democracy. The only problem is that this restoration calls for the suspension of a voter-approved law, which leaves their passionate plea for democracy sounding a little hollow. And it was hard not to notice that that most of the people arguing on behalf of the incumbents were the incumbents.

In 2005, Bloomberg himself said that an attempt to overturn the voter-approved term limits law would be "disgusting." He must have taken something to settle his stomach since then, because now he loves the idea. His current pattern of argument for the repeal of term limits is that he is the only person on planet earth who could possibly shepherd the city through the coming hard times brought down by Wall Street. There are two big problems with this: First, it's quite clear that this scheme occurred to him before Lehman filed for bankruptcy and the Dow came tumbling down a few short weeks ago. The crash just gave him a less selfish-sounding excuse.

And secondly, "I'm the only man who can protect you," has been the favored line of dictators throughout history; the standard excuse for the suspension of democracy. The last time it was heard here in NYC was when Rudy Giuliani angled for an extension of his administration in the wake of 9/11, because he was the only man who could possibly lead the city through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Thankfully, he was not granted his extension, and guess what? We somehow managed to get through it without him.

I agree with Mike circa 2005 - this is disgusting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Message to the Mayor: Let NYC Vote!

This Friday the New York City Council is poised to overturn the city's term limits law, expressly so that billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg can run for a third term. The term limits law was approved by voters twice, once in 1993 and again in 1996. Voters are not being given a choice about its repeal, however.

Only one public hearing is scheduled, and it's this Thursday at City Hall: click here for details. Generally when an important piece of legislation is going to be considered before the city council, multiple hearings are scheduled in all five boroughs. But the effort to overturn this voter-approved law is being rammed though with as little fanfare as possible by the mayor and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. When the un-democratic nature of this process was pointed out to Speaker Quinn, she replied: “If term limits get extended, voters will have an opportunity at the ballot box to demonstrate whether it was the wrong or right choice. That is the democratic practice.” But the voters already made their choice, twice.

Everything about this stinks, and it does so irrespective of your opinions about the Bloomberg administration or the term limits law. It sends a message to voters that referendums on important issues are meaningless if they become inconvenient for politicians, especially wealthy ones.

Which brings me to an extremely difficult to ignore set of observations about the role of money in all of this. Michael Bloomberg spent $74 million dollars of his personal fortune to get elected in 2001 ($92.60 per vote) and nearly $78 million to get relected in 2005. These numbers completely shattered spending records for non-presidential campaigns. Compare this to the $9.6 million spent by 2005 democratic contender Freddy Ferrer, and it becomes quite clear that it is virtually impossible to offer credible competition, especially in the arena of television advertising. If he runs again, he will spend another numbing sum, again drowning out any other voices and essentially guaranteeing victory.

The size of the megaphone matters a lot, and now Bloomberg is turning his multi-million dollar megaphone at undoing a publically-approved law. The mayor has, to his credit, donated large sums to many NYC civic and cultural institutions, and to a variety of charities. The city council is keenly aware of this, and is loathe to lose this source of non-governmental funding. I would hate to see this revenue stream cut off as well, but isn't this tantamount to bribery?

And there's a sub-plot that's rather unsavory as well: Even if a council member is opposed to a third Bloomberg administration, he or she would benefit from the removal of term limits, too, if said council member wanted to serve a third term. The New York City Council is among the highest paid in the country at $112, 500 a year (they gave themselves a raise in 2006, from $90,000 a year).

In a recent press conference, a reporter asked Bloomberg about the questionable nature of overturning a publicly approved law, and he provided this barely intelligible response:

“Everything we do is controversial. That’s what democracy is all about. If the City Council passes a bill to change term limits, I’ve said I will sign it. And what it really does is it is just gives voters another option. It by no means says the voters don’t have any choice. They just have another choice. And they will be able to make that choice.”

Bloomberg is not Bush, and when the mayor says something this ridiculous, it's clear that he's dodging. He knows this stinks, too, but he's among the wealthiest men on the planet and is accustomed to getting his way.

Michael Bloomberg did not get elected king, and all NYC voters should contact their council members and urge them to vote no on this dangerously un-democratic precedent. All of the council members e-mails can be found at this link.

The Thursday hearing is scheduled to go all day and into the night - the larger the crowd, the louder the message. All will be allowed to speak, right up until the vote on Friday morning, so why not make this your first public oratory? Who knows, maybe you'll be the mayor of NYC some day (but only for two terms, OK?).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Brown Out

The short, sometimes brilliant, and often weird career of Big Brown is apparently at an end. The colt cut his right front hoof during a workout on the turf course at Aqueduct in preparation for what would have been his last start: the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita on October 25th, where many (including me) were still holding out hope that Curlin and Big Brown would finally meet.

It's not such a sad story for Big Brown - after his foot heals he goes straight to studly duty. My understanding is that the busier studs have up to 100 dates a year. As trainer Rick Dutrow said at the announcement of BB's retirement: "The best case scenario is he lives a real good life." It's all any of us can hope for, I suppose.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 24

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life (Natura morta), 1954. Oil on canvas, 10" x 28."

"There are times when I would have loved to have been one, I mean a non-objective artist, so-called, but I always have to find something to hang the paint on."

-Jim Dine, from a 1982 interview

It's very easy to get swept away in the poetry and romance of Morandi still life paintings of the 1950's, with their quiet arrangements of strangely dignified small things and that palette which consists only of the muted colors of memories. My wife nearly cried while looking at some of the pictures at the big exhibition currently on view at the Met, and I must say that as I stood in front of his final canvas, I got a little choked up myself.

But that grid he employed in the fifties, drawn with such force and clarity, is so rigorous and logical and perfect that one has to wonder if the little bottles and boxes were actually the meditations of a philosopher- poet (the preferred Morandi mythology), or was it that they simply provided a place to hang the paint on, to drape a grid over. Those pictures were nearly as formal as Mondrian, and, with their narrow value range, they were flatter than many cubist still-life paintings.

Most agree that abstract painting comes out of landscape and still life. There are no people, no eyes to look at, no events unfolding, and as a result, attention is much more easily spread over the entire surface of the canvas. Morandi's still life paintings and landscapes are always a few brushstrokes away from being muted geometric abstractions; little studies in formal perfection. Like Monet's water lilies or very late Turners, the pictures are barely representational.

So was Morandi in essence an abstract painter who used his bottles and boxes simply as a compositional starting point but ultimately viewed then with indifference? This is one of those arguments which would probably unfold very much like a discussion of whether or not there is a god - both sides would make their case with force and vehemence, but in all likelihood neither would be swayed. But even if you love the late Morandi pictures for their considerable formal achievement, I think it's ok to get a little misty over the poetry of it all; life is complicated, and apparently, so is still life.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The 2008 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont, 9/27/08



In typically workman-like fashion, Curlin splashed across the finish line yesterday to become the first thoroughbred in history to earn more than $10,000,000 ($10,246,800, to be exact), surpassing Cigar's record of $9,999,815. Not bad for two years work.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pierr Obando At Heskin Contemporary

"Noise," a solo exhibition of paintings by Pierre Obando, takes visual leftovers as its content; the jetsam and flotsam that gathers around the periphery of perception and generally gets filtered out in the process of cognition. The title of the show is a shortened adaptation of the term "white noise," which generally describes the sound of a radio tuned to a dead station. The work broadly divides itself into two groups (with "Gallo's Humor" being the one picture which veers off into another direction).

The color works ("Lumbar Tilt," and "Lumbar Tilt Study") use layers of dots that blend into an oddly photographic space, much like the coarse, overlapping dot screens that make up the four-color pictures reproduced in the newspaper. The figuration in these paintings at first seems like the time-honored grids and dots of late modernism, but turn into a big surprise when you find out the paintings are actually of gum on the sidewalk. Describing the pictures in this way may make them sound like a one-note joke, but they're not - the spatial tilt that happens when you realize that you're not looking at a grid, but at perspective, is jarring and continually interesting. It's a nice take on Hans Hofmann's push/pull phenomena, tied up with sly humor.

The pictures that really caught me were the "Ben-Day" dot paintings, which were essentially renderings of "Zipatone." "Zipatone" (and its rival, "Letratone") were the adhesive-backed dot screens used by newspaper cartoonists to create tone, and were rendered obsolete by the computer a long time ago. Besides the "leftover" aspect (the overarching theme of the show) there are a variety of layers to these deceptively simple, black and white pictures.

The moire patterns created by the overlapping grids relate to Op painting, but at the same time talk about the generally unwanted consequences of "Zipatone." A political cartoonist would never have used the material in this way for his published pieces, but the work area to the side of his drawing board would almost certainly look like the haphazard, layered arrangement in Obando's paintings. In a sense then, the pictures are oddly photorealistic renderings of the afore-described scene, which goes on to tie them to a concept seen in early Jasper Johns: making paintings of subjects whose flatness coincides with the two-dimensionality of the picture support. The pictures look simultaneously CG and old-fashioned, which makes for a strange and engaging dialectic, and I should also add to all this the simple fact that they are visually quite arresting - they require no such layer by layer analysis in order to be enjoyed, particularly the large "Sheet" (pictured above) in the opening gallery.

The show is up until October 18th, and I highly recommend it. Heskin Contemporary is located at 443 W 37th St. bet. 9th and 10th Ave. in New York City.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Monmouth Stakes, 9/13/08



It was life and death vs. Proudinsky in the lane, but Big Brown pulled off his first victory against older horses in yesterday's Monmouth Stakes, improving his record to seven wins in eight starts. If you've never heard of the Monmouth Stakes before, it's because this is the first time it was ever run, and quite possibly won't be run again.

Apparently, trainer Rick Dutrow told Big Brown's majority owners, IEAH Stables, that BB's ideal prep race for the Breeder's Cup Classic would be on grass, so as to prepare him for the synthetic surface at Santa Anita (many say that polytrack has a similar response to turf). Dutrow also said that the ideal spacing between the prep race and the BC Classic would be forty days. IEAH responded by buying Big Brown a race.

The Monmouth Stakes was brought to you by Big Brown's owners, and met all the specifications of Dutrow's requests. IEAH put up the $500,000 purse, which was to have been reduced to $200,000, if for some reason Big Brown was unable to race.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Who's The Man?

Curlin, above, looking like Bo Derek in "Ten."

The two main contenders for 2008 Horse of the Year are last year's defending champion, Curlin, and the moderately disgraced Big Brown, who looked good on the comeback trail while running down a loose-on-the-lead type in the Haskell at Monmouth on August 3rd. Everyone is hoping that the Eclipse honors will be settled on the track in the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita, but that race is very much up in the air. Curlin's connections don't seem to be in a big hurry to go to California in October, putatively because of the controversial polytrack. Jess Jackson, Curlin's majority owner, is planning to run his horse at the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 27th (guess where I'll be that day), and in the Japan Cup on December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day - who's idea was this?). These could be Curlin's last two races before becoming a big old stud.

The intrigue about a race between the country's best three-year-old and four-year-old has been heating up all summer, culminating with Richard Dutrow and the Big Brown camp challenging Curlin's connections to a match race at Churchill Downs to take place in late November (which is a horrible idea - think about poor Ruffian). Curlin's people declined, because they're planning for the champ to be in Tokyo, but responded by offering to donate $50,000 to Anna House, a daycare center for backstretch workers at Belmont, if BB would come to the Woodward at Saratoga. Big Brown's team declined because, in what seems an odd decision, they're planning to run their horse on the grass at the Monmouth Stakes on Sept. 13. The timing of the turf race would also seem to necessarily rule out the two tough guys meeting up at Belmont just two weeks later for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Oh, well.

There's another reason I'd like to see Big Brown and Curlin in the Breeder's Cup Classic: they both might lose. Ladbrokes, the UK's largest (legal) bookie, currently has the 3-1 favorite listed as Henrythenavigator, Europe's champion miler, with Curlin at 4-1 and Big Brown at 8-1. I think I still like Curlin to win, but getting BB at 8-1 seems like a sale price that even Walmart couldn't beat.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bohemia: A Love Letter



I didn't want to let August end without a brief acknowledgment of the 20th anniversary of the Tompkins Square Park riots (August 6th and 7th, 1988). Yes, I was there and got hit with a nightstick by a crazy cop, etc., but that's not what this post is really about. It's a little love letter to something I caught the briefest glimpse of.

The inexorable gentrification of the East Village had already been underway to be sure, but those berserk cops who rampaged through the neighborhood made it clear that the party was over, and all the broke artists and punks and drag queens and other undesirables should hurry up and go away. New York City as post-war Bohemia was more or less officially at an end.

I missed Ab Ex and Be-Bop, the Beats, The Velvets, Dylan in the 60's, the Factory, the Dolls, and CBGB's in the 70's. But I did catch the last gasp of the East Village scene in the late 80's, already under siege by AIDS and real estate developers. At the time I scoffed at a lot of the characters on Avenue A as silly posers, but looking back, I must say I miss them quite a bit.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Woodward Stakes, Saratoga, 8/30/08

Just another day at the office for the Champ. It was extremely cool of Curlin's connections to let him race as a four-year-old; most horses of this caliber are hustled off to stud after their three-year-old campaign. I know I keep saying this, but I would really like to see Big Brown v. Curlin in the Breeder's Cup Classic. That polytrack at Santa Anita might very well scare away one or both teams, though.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 23

Don Voisine, Ava, 2006. Oil on wood panel, 50" x 40."

Every now and then I see a show that gives me a boost just in the nick of time. "Progress" at the Whitney was not such such a show. As I stood in front of Paul Sietsema's 2002 dollhouse diorama of Clement Greenberg's living room, complete with Paintings I Like, I thought: "Wow, like, fuck. How many more years do you think it will be possible to have the main part of your artistic practice consist of sneering at Modernism? Wasn't this settled, oh, about thirty years ago? Or more?"

I left the Whitney with that singular feeling of the blues that I get when I've seen yet another show of murky, aesthetically neutral art. Then I cut over to Fifth Ave. and ambled uptown to the National Academy to see their 183rd Annual Exhibition, which I had heard good things about and which comes down in a week. This is where I got the boost I was needing.

There it was, painting after painting, without apology and mainly sans ctritique, and much of it quite marvelous. David Reed's #528 from 2003-'05 showed his characteristic razzle-dazzle: the unexpected color combinations, the weirdly photographic transparency, and that freewheeling gesture which paradoxically never looks like it was made by a person. It was especially nice to see that he doesn't require big scale to make a painting fully engaging. He's a modern master.

Don Voisine's Ava from 2006 used black on black to create a constantly flipping figure then ground then hole-in-the-support type of space which refused to give a stable account of itself. It yielded up a surprising amount of surprises given the wholly Spartan vocabulary the painter employs. David Leka's highly disciplined use of color and geometry was balanced beautifully by a painterly depiction of warm, swelling light in Placid Motion from 2005. A Google search of the artist indicates that he's a young guy, and this is always a good sign - the health of any creative activity can be pretty accurately gauged by the number of talented young people who want to participate in it.

And the list goes on; there were nice entries from David Collins (Klaxon Call, 2008), Jeanette Fintz (Turnabout #1, 2006), Andrea Champlin (Huddle, 2006), Bill Scott (Winter Garden, 2008), Leah Montalto (two untitled canvases from 2007), Melissa Meyer (Klothko, 2008), Barbara Takenaga (Angel [Pink], 2008), David Berger (Sky Over Roses, 2007), Lisa Hamilton (Wrapped, 2007), plus others that I'm sure I'm forgetting. So much to like.

I think that the reason painting survives despite the near-constant drone that it's dead is its unique ability to synthesize whatever ideas are in the air at a given time. The digital obviously loomed large over this particular show, which is not surprising since much computer generated imagery bears a strong resemblance to geometric abstraction but without the baggage. But that's not to say it was all glowing color and masking tape, either; there was gesture, representation, impasto, and many of the other enduring motives and techniques associated with ordinary painting materials. As long as there are good painters, painting will keep reinventing itself, and none of the funereal chants will matter a bit.

It was really great to see all this stuff together, especially after the Whitney. I'm tired of crummy-looking art, and I think a lot of other people are, too. The National Academy show stays up until September 7th, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Travers Stakes, Saratoga, 8/23/08

It was in large part a battle of the Triple Crown also-rans, but I must say Colonel John looked rough and tough running down Mambo in Seattle in the lane. Poor old Da' Tara got no respect at the windows, going off at 13-1 after beating Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. Pyro, my sage pick to win the Kentucky Derby (ha, ha) finished a respectable third after being pinned on the rail.

It's a pity Big Brown didn't come to the party after his nice comeback run in the Haskell, but many are still hoping for a Curlin v. BB showdown in the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita in October.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thelonious Monk, "Solitude," Berlin, 1969

Here's Monk doing Duke Ellington. Sometimes when he takes a solo it sounds like there's a little tiny drunk man walking around on the piano keys.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thelonious Monk, "I Mean You," Paris, 1969

I've been listening to a lot of Monk and Mingus in the studio lately - those guys were far beyond brillliant. And they also proved that art can have a sense of humor without being a joke.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Perception, Politics, and the Day the Sky Turned Green

In Paintings I Like, pt. 21, I quoted Barnett Newman on visual art's potential to affect political change, even (and perhaps especially) if the art in question has no political subject matter. I added that if people could be made to see form and space in a new way, in a way that was substantially different than they were accustomed to seeing, then other things in their lives which seemed permanent and intractable might also be viewed as fluid. The easiest target for this reevaluation, I reasoned, was the state, whose legitimacy often rests on the silliest and flimsiest of pretexts (i.e. "family values," and so on).

A close friend read the piece and questioned me on my logic, so I quickly came up with a metaphor to illustrate my point. It was hot and we were jogging, so the scenario I described was a little rough around the edges - I thought it might be worthwhile to try and flesh it out a little more fully. But first I need to backtrack a bit.

My larger point was about the profundity of seeing, which some say is the way we receive 90% of our information about the world, leaving linguistic information a distant second. I know the semioticians will disagree vehemently, but sign systems tend to break down when the specificity that coincides with concentrated looking emerges. What I mean is that generally people do not really look at the things they are confronted with in their day to day life - they quickly take in their surroundings and categorize things in terms of threat (mean dog), desirability (ice cream cone), utility (subway station), etc. People seldom really examine the specific contours, colors and textures of the dog, ice cream cone, or the architecture of the subway station. When one is able to really look at things in an aesthetic light, divorced from the objects' meanings, uses, or threats, the results are generally quite surprising; entire lists of attributes begin to appear that were before essentially invisible. When meaning is then reintegrated, it will necessarily be altered by the visual discoveries from the previous step. If you doubt this, look at an utterly familiar space (like your bedroom or living room) in a large mirror. Many of the things that had become virtually invisible due to their familiarity look suddenly alien and command a scrutiny you would generally never afford them. Then turn around and look at them again in real space, and, at least for a little while, you can see them anew.

Art is uniquely suited to the encouragement of this type of concentrated looking for an obvious reason: to be looked at is its primary reason for existence. You can't wear it, eat it, or use it to pick winning horses - all you can do is gaze upon it, and the very best art will reward that gaze with wholly new visual experiences, as well as new perspectives on the familiar, much like in the mirror experiment.

On to the metaphor:

Imagine if tomorrow morning the sun rose at the usual time, but instead of its usual yellow-orange, it was a brilliant emerald-green, and gave an emerald green cast to the sky, clouds and everything on the face of the earth.

The first reaction would be terror. But if the fear could somehow be allayed, and it could be made clear that it was simply a change in the color of the light and not a an eco-disaster or nuclear attack, then people would start seeing familiar things very differently, and looking at them harder than before; the entire world would command attention in a similar fashion to the objects in the mirror experiment. Grass would seem impossibly verdant, and stop signs oddly grey. Yellow cabs would turn yellow-green, and white shirts would turn the color of a lime popsicle. And people would be looking at the all these ordinary things with interest and wonder, inadvertently becoming aware of the number of buttons on the popsicle-colored shirt, or the shapes of the houses on their block, and a million other things that were right in front of them the day before but that they never saw. People would look at each other in an entirely different way, too, if everyone's skin and hair was tinted green; indeed, one of the most reliable indicators of ethnicity would be radically changed, and new classifications would need to be drawn by those who insist on drawing them (say, light green versus dark green). All the familiar things, things that seemed so fixed and permanent and ordinary would seem marvelously interesting and subject to flux, even though nothing had actually changed in terms their material or biological composition. They just looked different.

And let's say that after a period of time, a month, or maybe a year, the sun came up one day and it was back to its normal color. Things would look the way they used to look, the way that they looked in memory, but again would look new. And probably as profoundly new as they looked when they turned green. And at least for a while, and maybe for a long while, nothing regarding permanence or stability would be taken for granted. If everything in the whole world looked different for a time, even though it smelled, felt, sounded, and tasted the same, then it would seem that little is fixed and all is subject to change. This could be a cause for great anxiety, but could just as easily be viewed as an opening for the embrace of new possibilities. Either way, the experience would necessarily change people's world view.

So why do I think that an altered perception could lead to political change? Because political systems are by far the softest and most vulnerable target, even as they present themselves as massive, powerful, and permanent. Politicians obsessively read poll numbers, constantly taking the public's temperature for the slightest signs of unrest. Societal mood swings cause politicians much anxiety, but large scale changes in outlook cause hysteria. Why are they so nervous?

I recently read an interesting piece by the anthropologist David Graeber, in which he talks about the basis for and maintenance of political power. In the article, Graeber points out that "if you could convince everyone in the entire world that you were the King of France, then you would actually be the King of France." He goes on:

"This is the essence of politics. Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge its essence. No king would openly admit he is king just because people think he is. Political power has to be constantly recreated by persuading others to recognize one’s power; to do so, one pretty much invariably has to convince them that one’s power has some basis other than their recognition. That basis may be almost anything— divine grace, character, genealogy, national destiny. But 'make me your leader because if you do, I will be your leader' is not in itself a particularly compelling argument."

Graeber's point is that political power's main basis is perception. If the general public's perception became dynamic instead of complacent; if people expected and sought and welcomed meaningful change, then the smoke and mirrors game that Graeber outlines above would be difficult if not impossible to maintain. Art, it seems to me, tirelessy aspires to the expansion and alteration of perception, and does so via the medium of seeing - the sense through which we do the vast majority of our perceiving. Art needs no political subject matter, or any subject matter at all, to excite and influence perception. Stalin (who imprisoned Malevich) and Hitler (who hung the "Degenerate Art" exhibition) squelched early modernist painting, even though, on its face, the work generally had no subversive content. It simply presented a new way of seeing, which is anathema to entrenched power.

When I was very small, I would naively question my family about why some people had so much and others so little, or why there was war. The adults repeatedly told me: "that's the way of the world," and would look at one another with knowing, sad smiles. These injustices were put in the same category as the weather, instead of their actual category, which is a set of priorities imposed upon the many by the few. But the many are, by tacit agreement, allowing the few to perpetuate these things, and the few are trying desperately to present these things as natural and necessary occurrences, when they are in reality a matter of perception. Articulating new and open pictorial spaces might not have the same life-altering power to change perception that a green sky would. But within the metaphor, the entire environment took on the character of art, and the inhabitants had no choice but to look at it. If people could be made to really look at art with the same intensity, then some measure of those changes in perception, and hence in outlook, would obtain. And then anything would be possible.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 22

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Sunrise with Sea Monsters, 1845. Oil on canvas, 36" x 48."

In 1845, this painting must have looked like it arrived special delivery from Mars. I'll bet that El Greco at his weirdest wasn't greeted with the same incredulity that Turner faced late in his career.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 21

Barnett Newman, Onement, I, 1948. Oil and masking tape on canvas, 27" x 16."

“Some twenty-two years ago in a gathering, I was asked what my painting really means in terms of society, in terms of the world. And my answer then was that if my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism. Because to the extent that my painting was not an arrangement of objects, not an arrangement of spaces, not an arrangement of graphic elements, was [instead] an open painting; to that extent I thought, and I still believe, that my work in terms of its social impact does denote the possibility of an open society.”

-Barnett Newman in a 1970 interview with Emile de Antonio for the Film Painters Painting.

I believe that there is no such thing as "art for art's sake." Art has no eyes with which to enjoy art, people do. And art needs no justification for its own existence; it's continued presence is itself proof of its necessity. Things that pertain to culture, like art, language, and religion never die by law or declaration; they die when they no longer have utility for the cultures that produced and/or nurtured them; witness the recent stories about the decline of Catholicism in the west and the decline of Buddhism in Japan and you can follow this inexorable process in real time.

And I also believe, like Newman, that this doesn’t mean that art which carries no political message on its surface has no political significance. Art is the ultimate symbol of personal freedom, and entrenched power has always recognized this. Historically, the most oppressive regimes have suppressed art the most energetically. Hitler’s “Degenerate Art Exhibition” contained many landscapes, portraits, and abstractions that could hardly be deemed subversive in terms of subject matter, but the freedom they espoused was intolerable. Likewise, Stalin saw fit to imprison Malevich, putatively as a spy, but in reality for painting geometric abstractions. At the height of their power, both Hitler and Stalin feared “art for art’s sake,” and this speaks directly to Newman’s point that showing people a new way of looking and seeing and perceiving form creates an opening and a possibility for seeing everything in their lives in a new way. And I don’t think this is a romantic overstatement, particularly in terms of the threat that it poses to the power of the state.

State power is often supported by the flimsiest of pretexts: “national security,” “national pride,” “family values,” and so on. The legitimacy of such pretexts will often collapse like a stage flat when exposed to the most modest amount of scrutiny – the ongoing implosion of the Bush administration is a good example of this process. Art has the unique ability to open eyes and minds; to heighten the sense of discovery and freedom and curiosity. When one’s mind is freed, even a little, it follows that a fatalistic attitude about the material condition of one’s life will also erode. Once this process is initiated, the very first target for reevaluation will almost certainly be state power, who’s self-perpetuating absurdity will usually be revealed with the most minimal inspection.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Belmont Results, 7/19/08

This game does have a way of keeping you humble.

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 7/19/08

It's going to be as hot as an oven today, and the race card is not stellar, but it's the closing weekend of the spring/summer meeting at Belmont - how could I say no? Here are Paulie's Picks for the last summer Saturday at Big Sandy:

1st race:
5 - Nacascolo
2 - Winzalot
7 - L'Oiseau d'Argent

2nd race:
8 - Portable Alpha
4 - Above All Odds
7 - Afrikaner

3rd race:
7 - Yield Bogey
1 - He Struck It Rich
6 - Golden Weekend

4th race:
1 - Writingonthewall
3- Fortune Faded
2 - Top Leader

5th race:
1 - True Rebel
5 - Akin
9 - Sonny's the One

6th race:
5 - Unity
8 - Don't Fooli Houli
4 - Castle Harbour

7th race:
6 - Imperial River
1 - Victory Assured
2 - Triple Bogey Blues

8th race:
7 - Sweet Ransom
4 - West of Gibraltar
2 - Pretty Carolina

9th race, The Coaching Club American Oaks, G1:
2 - Acoma
1a - Music Note
1 - Little Belle
3 - Never Retreat

10th race:
10 - Mass Charles
3 - Ferocious Won
9 - McCalmont

Tune in tonight for results.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blood for Oil, Revisited

In a June, 2005 interview with the Progressive Magazine, Robert Fisk, the noted Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London, was asked why the US and Britain invaded Iraq. His response: "We didn't invade for weapons of mass destruction, because there weren't any. We didn't want to help the Shiites, because we had asked them to rise up in 1991 and sat back while they were all massacred. Clearly, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq if its chief export was cauliflower or carrots. So the oil dimension has to be there."

A couple of weeks ago a good friend and I were talking about the Iraq debacle, and he asked: "What happened to blood for oil?" Anyone who was there for 2003 pre-war protests remembers this slogan, so common on signs, posters, stickers and so on. My friend's question was a good one, since more than five years after the invasion Iraq's oil industry is still sputtering, and the west is more captive than ever to the whims of the Opec countries, especially the Saudis.

I stumbled across a Chomsky article on Alternet, which in turn points back to a Times article from a few weeks ago that sheds some light on the situation. Yes, Virginia, it was about the oil after all. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP, along with some smaller oil companies including Chevron, were recently granted a no-bid contract to operate some of Iraq's largest oil fields. The four major players were the original constituents of the Iraq Petroleum Company, who were kicked out of Iraq when Sadaam nationalized Iraq's oil reserves in 1971.

Iraq law apparently requires that these concessions should be open to a transparent bidding process, and many other countries, including Russia and China, expressed great interest. But the Iraq Oil Ministry has learned a lot from the Bush administration about skirting pesky laws, and circumvented this one by granting the US consortium "service contracts" as opposed to actual concessions. The companies have negotiated that their payment be in oil instead of cash.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Belmont Results, 7/12/08

I'm genuinely sorry that Curlin is not going to get his trip to France, but I'm pretty happy that I had Red Rocks covered in the trifecta and Grand Slam pools. Maybe I'll take my own damn trip to France!

Here are today's Belmont results.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 7/12/08

As I mentioned in my last post, Curlin had to get a special permit in order to race in NY tomorrow because two of his part-owners are in a Kentucky pokey. I wonder if they'll be allowed to watch the race?

The 2007 Horse of the Year will be making his turf debut in the G1 Man O' War against a couple of bona fide lawn mowers: the mighty Better Talk Now, who won the 2004 Breeder's Cup Turf and still clicks on all cylinders at age 9(!), and Red Rocks, the Irish import who won the BC Turf in 2006. I'm going to throw in my lot with Curlin, but I'm definitely going to play a couple of saver bets with the other two - this race is far from a sure thing. If he wins tomorrow, Curlin's connections are planning to send him to France for the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. Apparently, the French require no special permits for horses with imprisoned owners. Vive le France!

Here are Paulie's Picks for tomorrow's Belmont card:

1st race:
5 - Big Stick
1 - Dancing Tin Man
2 - Life of Dancer

2nd race:
7 - Law Enforcement
1 - Spanky Fischbein
8 - Call Me Larry

3rd race:
3 - Indian Hawke
1 - Mr. Madison
4 - Fearless Vision

4th race:
1 - Sixthirteen
3 - Mucho Macho
4 - Tenacious Star

5th race:
6 - All Verses
3 - Hostile Takeover
1 - High Brass

6th race:
6 - Iron Curtain
7 - Beneath the Crown
1 - Prime Obsession

7th race:
3 - Quixotic Lassie
1 - Credit at Tiffanys
9 - Ommadon's Storm

8th race:
7 - Alabama Man
1 - Baronial
2 - Storm Harbor

9th race, The Man O' War, G1
7 - Curlin
1 - Better Talk Now
6 - Red Rocks

10th race:
9 - Smart Enuf
8 - Grantor
4 - Second Mortage

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Curlin

Curlin is slated to be in New York this Saturday, making his turf debut in the Man O' War at Belmont. Apparently, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board had to grant a special license in order for the 2007 Horse of the Year to race in NY, because his two minority owners have been in a Kentucky jail since last summer.

William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., two class-action lawyers who bought Curlin as a yearling for $57,000, are accused of bilking 418 people out of $64 million in a successful class action suit against the makers of the diet drug Fen-Phen.

Gallion and Cunningham had a third partner, Melbourne Mills, Jr., who was involved with the Fen-Phen case, but not the horse. Last week Mills was acquitted for his part in the class-action suit. His defense? He was too drunk to take an active role in the conspiracy.

Curlin was only the eighth three-year-old to win the Breeder's Cup Classic. Hopefully he, along with some of the other tough guys from last year's crop of three-year-olds, will meet up with the thoroughly humbled Big Brown at the 2008 Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita this October.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 20

Ilya Bolotowsky, Large Architectural, 1951. Oil on canvas, 65" x 91."

New York Cool at NYU's Grey Art Gallery is pretty good, although not all that it could have been - it was limited by the fact that all of it's pictures and objects were drawn strictly from the NYU collection, which means that there are quite a few lesser works by major artists. Despite this, Ilya Bolotowsky's Large Architectural from 1951 makes the show well worth the trip.

At first glance, the painting looks like it was made by one of the many American followers of Mondrian, and to an extent this is true, but the canvas picks up the thread that Mondrian had only begun to exploit in the works made close to his death. In the Dutch painter's earlier modular paintings, the black grid simultaneously acts as a kind of mortar between the colored panels and as straps which lash them down, emphasizing the two-dimensionality of the picture plane - that pure two-dimensionality being a principle preoccupation of the painters associated with "De Stijl."

In Broadway Boogie Woogie from 1942-43, however, the black grid is omitted, swapped instead for predominantly yellow bands with colors of varying degrees of contrast superimposed over and in-between them. The result is a deeper spatiality, but more importantly, a constant shifting of foreground and background position among the colors as the eye moves along the bands. In spite of the dynamic color relations within the bands, though, the large white areas in-between them seldom lose their identification as ground.

In Bolotowsky's large canvas there is no such negative space per se, no space which can ever be wholly identified as ground. Mondrian's linear grid is omitted entirely, replaced by interlocking rectangles of white, grey, and the three primaries. The surface shimmers as the blocks rise and fall, constantly changing position front to back and back to front, always resisting stable spatial identification. The result is a kind of speed and dynamism which is quite surprising considering there are no diagonals in sight.

While the geometric figuration and primary palette readily refer to Mondrian, the all-over nature of the composition and lack of a fixed focal area make strong reference to Pollock's drip paintings (which were still news in 1951) and I think this is in reality the stronger influence. The show is up for another two weeks, and I recommend it if only for a trip to the basement where this seldom-seen gem is hidden away.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Shoe Loose

The latest piece of evidence pertaining to Big Brown's mysterious last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes is a picture taken in the early stretches of the race which shows that the colt's right hind shoe was loose. Michael Iavarone, a co-president of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings (Big Brown's stable) pointed to the data as the proverbial smoking gun; proof positive that his horse is still much the best, and more importantly, still worth $50 million as a stud. Others, including trainer Rick Dutrow, are not completely convinced that the shoe was the culprit; Dutrow suggested that it was an inept ride by Kent Desormeaux that doomed his horse to a ninth-place finish that day.

BB is set resume training in New York this week, and Dutrow has an Ambitious schedule in mind: The Haskell at Monmouth Park on August 3, The Travers at Saratoga on August 23, and finally the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita on October 25, which, if it happens, will probably be the last race of BB's career. Disappointingly, his connections have already announced that he will not run as a four-year-old.

I'll draw a line through the Belmont performance, shoe or no shoe, provided he runs in the Breeder's Cup. As I said in an earlier post (and as many others have pointed out), if he can beat a bunch of the four-year-olds from last year's stellar graduating class, especially Curlin, I'm still willing to annoint him as the current King of Beasts. But if he looks silly chasing Curlin, Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, and/or Hard Spun, I think the doubters will be proved correct in the assessment that until the Belmont, BB was just toying around with a bunch of weak three-year-olds.

In other news, Rick Dutrow was scheduled to testify on June 19th before a House subcommittee hearing on thoroughbred safety, but cancelled, saying that he was sick. It seems a little more likely he suddenly remembered that he's a former cocaine abuser with a long string of suspensions for equine doping violations. I think he should have gone anyway, he probably would have discovered that he has more in common with many congressman than one would initially assume.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Short Critique of Critique

Many eye-witnesses say that the thing that really killed Abstract Expressionism was the notorious "Tenth Street Touch." By the 1950's, Ab Ex was a codified, marketable style, and legions of Pollock and DeKooning imitators were splashing paint all over the place - there were apparently rows of galleries on East 10th St. in NYC which showed and sold their canvases. Greenberg also points out that many of the leading lights of Ab Ex became, by the 50's, imitations of their earlier selves, simply replicating the most superficial stylistic aspects of their earlier works.

My question: is critique the new "Tenth Street Touch?" In the late 60's, at home and abroad, all institutions of power came under intense pressure and scrutiny: students, poets, minorities, artists, women (and women artists), musicians, novelists, playwrights, and the like all started asking hard questions from the powerful and demanded answers. To be part of that, to be an artist and an agent for change must have been intoxicating and fulfilling.

But now that institutional critique is itself an institution, has it fallen into the same fate as gesture a half-century ago? At this point in history, it often functions as a kind of magic wand or fig leaf, covering a great deal of art that could in no way stand on its own merits. And perhaps more importantly, it's taught at the schools, which is the kiss of death for any street-level art movement.

The following quote is from Greenberg's essay entitled "Post-Painterly Abstraction." I removed "Abstract Expressionism," and substituted "Institutional Critique" to see how it would fit, but you could just as easily swap in "Impressionism," "Cubism," "Pop," "Minimalism," or a host of other period styles - 'twas ever thus:

"[Institutional Critique] was, and is, a certain style of art, and like other styles of art, having had its ups, it had its downs. Having produced art of major importance, it turned into a school, then into a manner, and finally into a set of mannerisms. Its leaders attracted imitators, many of them, and then some of these leaders took to imitating themselves."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Some Quick Thoughts

My blog is again beginning to suffer from neglect because I've been busy setting up my new studio in Sunset Park. But on the subway ride out there yesterday I was thumbing through the new Artforum, and saw a couple of things in the Peter Schjeldahl interview that are worthy of comment. They weren't big talking points, almost parenthetical, really, but encapsulate to a large extent some of the more non-negotiable aspects of contemporary art discourse.

The first was not an original thought on the part of Schjeldahl - the interviewer (Deborah Solomon) pointed out that it was a version of a Greenberg dictum: the idea that good art can't look too good, at least not at first. And a little later, the critic explains why he liked this year's Biennnial: "It felt sad and lost. Very true to the moment." These two views have a common thread.

There's a reflexive reaction to art that's extremely well-made: it almost always elicits mistrust on the part of the educated viewer - the automatic assumption is that the work is pandering and facile (the interesting exception to this rule is the object that is well-made by industrial fabrication, but I digress). As Solomon pointed out, this notion has its origins in Greenberg himself, so it would be wrong to pin its pervasiveness on Post-Modernism. But Post-Modernism forcefully added to the mix the idea that quality was an arbitrary attribute assigned by whoever was in power at the moment.

Art is not welcomed into the venues that exhibit it uncritically, however; some criteria became necessary to replace quality, and communion with the zeitgeist became the gold standard. A firm belief in the idea that art is the mirror that reflects the culture is the basis for the paradoxical statement that "sad and lost" is a virtue for an art exhibition.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday, June 6, 2008

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 6/7/08

It's only fitting that on the eve of Big Brown's Big Day, we look back on the the most memorable running of the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat's 1973 tour de force in which he won by 31 lengths and set a record that stands to this day: 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt. Gee whiz!

Edgar Prado and Casino Drive are the only credible candidates to spoil Big Brown's party, but a bruised hind hoof might keep the Peter Pan Stakes winner off the track; and even if he goes, it's hard to say how the hoof could effect his performance, particularly in a protracted stretch run.

So there's no real reason to believe Big Brown won't gallop off into the history books tomorrow. I saw an interesting blog item about BB this week, addressing the growing number of voices who are saying that while his races are visually impressive, the numbers are somewhat pedestrian, and he's just beating up on a weak crop of three-year-olds. Apparently, the same thing could be said about the 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. So there.

I just wish that he wasn't named after a corporate shipping entity (or a corporate anything, for that matter).

Here are Professor Paulie's Picks for tomorrow's Belmont card:

1st race:
1 - Desert Key
11 - Accredit
7 - Commandeered

2nd race:
10 - Golden Weekend
7 - Sixthirteen
6 - Tiz It

3rd race:
4 - Piazza Di Spagna
8 - Smart Enuf
5 - Seeking No More

4th race:
4 - Forefathers
8 - Firejack
11 - Teide

5th race:
2 - Hawkwood
4 - Wonforthegoodguys
12 - Benny the Waiter

6th race, The True North Handicap, G2:
8 - Man of Danger
7 - Benny the Bull
5 - Suave Jazz

7th race, The Just a Game, G1:
1 - Lady of Venice
10 - Vacare
5 - Criminologist

8th race, The Acorn, G1:
5 - Golden Doc A
3 - Game Face
1 - Zaftig

9th race, The Woody Stephens, G2:
9 - Majestic Warrior
2 - Ready's Image
5 - J Be K

10th race, The Manhattan Handicap, G1:
5 - Out of Control
10 - Dancing Forever
9 - Proudinsky

11th race, The Belmont Stakes, G1:
1 - Big Brown
5 - Casino Drive
4 - Dennis of Cork

12th race:
3 - Bella Attrice
2 - Cordilleran Ice
5 - Dr. Jess Jr

13th race:
1 - Indian Hawke
13 - Law Enforcement
6 - Stonewood

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Michael Zahn at Eleven Rivington Gallery

Michael Zahn described his new solo show to me in this way: "If there was an art gallery scene in Grand Theft Auto 4, it would look like this." He's right of course, but his glibness doesn't describe the number of ideas zooming around the room in As Michael Zahn at Eleven Rivington Gallery.

It's a funny time to be an abstract painter; adherence to the old battle lines isn't especially useful anymore. Michael Zahn doesn't exactly ignore these traditional polarities (autonomus v. contextual, formal v. representational, etc.), but plays both sides with an enthusiasm that prevents the show from simply devolving into an exercise in semiotics or dialectics.

And this emphatic embrace of both sides is what's most interesting to me. When I first apprehended the show and got a general sense of the questions posed by the work, I waited for that slimy feeling I get in the presence of irony - but it never came. The work asks questions, makes comments (ok, it critiques - there, I've said it), but displays no contempt for the objects of inquiry.

Hang, is a 17' picture that uses the iconography of a crashed computer as a metaphor for the death of mid-century American abstract painting - it's no accident that the size and striped motifs are not far afield from Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimus. But there's a key difference between Hang and most of the work out there that dances on the grave of pre-1968 abstraction: Hang (along with the other pictures in the show) is a really good painting. It sounds like I'm being as glib as Michael was in the opening lines of this essay, but I'm not - the fact that Hang looks as good as it does is very real indication of a continued belief in the relevance of that type of painting even as it acknowledges its limitations and its highly devalued position at this particular juncture.

The digitized look and feel of the show acts a constant mediator between the older, more purely visual impulses, and the more contemporary focus on signs and signifiers and other linguistic/narrative concerns. My favorite picture was Power, Corruption, and Lies (Version), pictured above, which instantly referenced Fantin-Latour, 80's pop music, Photoshop, and the low-res imagery so common to the internet. But, like Hang, it was a terrific painting, not strictly an index of a century-and-a-half's worth of stratified references, and to my mind the first Photoshop mosaic-ed painting I've seen that really works. The way that Zahn depicted the color halo effects so common to coarse pixellated images very closely approximated the back-lit nature of the screen; virtually eliminating the picture's surface and evincing that elusive quality seen in certain Venetian paintings and in Bridget Riley as well: the illusion of color simply floating in the air.

In the end, I always judge art (and especially painting) on the way that it looks, and the thing that separates As Michael Zahn from the endless parade of critiques out there is that fact that it looks great, and feels no need to mask or apologize for that fact.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Still Accepting Applications for the Fall Semester

This came in today's mail, and I must confess that I like the sound of it. Who needs a Commemorative Whitney Biennial Artists Edition Gap T-shirt when you could have your very own college instead?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 19

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, The Facade in Sunlight, 1894. Oil on canvas, 42" x 29."

One of the many things I marvel at about Monet's mature work is the lightness and delicacy he was able to maintain in spite of the fact that his canvases were absolutely encrusted with paint. Caked impasto of that thickness has a real tendency to look like frosting (or worse), which can make a picture feel as heavy as it looks. Monet's high-key palette and trademark depiction of the flecked effects of sunlight make this painting as light as a feather. Instead of calling attention to its topography, the picture's surface seems to dissolve.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art Blakey, Moanin,' 1962

I haven't done a jazz post in quite some time. When I see a clip like this or pull out one of my favorite records, I immediately miss playing music, which I haven't done in what seems like forever. This gives me the blues in a major way, and having the blues makes me want to hear the celestial Art Blakey playing Moanin.'

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Brown vs. Big Red

After his dazzling performances in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, everyone wants to know: Is Big Brown really the reincarnation of Secretariat, the Michael Jordan of the thoroughbred world? The first wave of nay-sayers (no pun intended) included me, who discounted his undefeated record going in to the Derby as more of a liability than an asset - only six horses had previously won the Run for the Roses with no defeats. The critics also pointed out that a horse with only three starts hadn't won since Regret in 1915, and nobody had won from the #20 post position since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. Big Brown clearly didn't read any of these statistics.

An article in today's Times gives voice to a new wave of Big Brown doubters - those that say he is an excellent horse among a less than stellar crop of three-year-olds, but he ain't no Big Red. In the article, Robby Albarado, Curlin's rider, points out that last year, Hard Spun, Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, and Curlin were all three-year-olds at the same time, and he doesn't even mention Rags to Riches (whom I'm sure he'd just as soon forget).

Some numbers shed a little light on the situation, but still leave room for interpretation and ambiguity. Secretariat's fractions for the five quarter-miles in the 1973 Derby were 25 1/5, 24, 23 4/5, 23 2/5, and 23 seconds, each one faster than the last. His final time for the race was 1:59 2/5 seconds, and the record still stands today. His Beyer Speed Figure for the race was a 139, the highest ever assigned (Beyer figures have been around since the 70's, and began appearing in the Daily Racing Form in 1992).

Big Brown's quarters in the Derby were 23 1/5, 23 4/5, 24, 25 2/5 and 25 2/5 seconds, for a final time of 2:01 4/5. Besides the slower time (12 lengths slower than Secretariat's if you assume 1/5 second = one length), this succession of fractions unfolds in a much more typical way; the vast majority of horses, even great ones, run slower fractions at the end of a race than at the beginning - the winner is the one that slows down the least. Big Brown's Derby Beyer figure was a very impressive 109, but placed in context with all of the 21st century Derby winners, it doesn't soar above the pack:

Street Sense (2007): 109
Barbaro (2006): 111
Giacomo (2005): 100
Smarty Jones (2004): 107
Funny Cide (2003): 109
War Emblem (2002): 114
Monarchos (2001): 116
Fusaichi Pegasus (2000): 108

So it sounds like I'm joining up with the new crowd of doubters, right? Not necessarily - this is where the ambiguity and interpretation comes into play. Len Ragozin's "Sheets" are the speed figures that present the most credible competition to Andrew Beyer's more famous numbers. And Len Friedman, the principle handicapper at the "Sheets," calculated Big Brown's performance as the fastest speed figure he's ever recorded. Unlike Beyer's numbers, Ragozin's speed figures decrease for faster performances, with zero being best. Big Brown's "Sheets" number was a -3/4, a quarter-point better than Secretariat's Derby, which was -1/2. Why so different? The most likely explanation is the fact that Ragozin uses distance from the rail in his calculations, and BB raced four-wide at both turns.

And there's another factor that's incalculable: Big Brown never seemed like he was straining in the stretch in either the Derby or the Preakness - especially the latter. If an Easy Goer or a Sunday Silence, or an Affirmed or an Alydar were really testing him in the final furlong, who knows what he would have been capable of? Maybe he would have wilted, or maybe he would have broken all previous records.

Some are saying that in the 2008 Belmont Stakes, Casino Drive will give Big Brown the real neck-and-neck, eye-to-eye stretch run that no one else has showed him, like the one that Rags to Riches gave to Curlin in last year's Belmont. Maybe so, but I think that Robby Albarado has it right when he points out that Big Brown's real test will come if his connections choose to put him in the Breeder's Cup Classic in the fall. If Big Brown shows up, he will be facing older horses for the first time, and the best of the exceptional class of 2007 (including defending champ Curlin). It's already been announced that BB won't race as a four-year-old, so if he doesn't turn up for the BC Classic, even with a Triple Crown under his belt, there might always be a tiny question mark in the air.