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.