Saturday, April 30, 2011
Saturday, April 23, 2011
"In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay."
I opened part four of the Bad Painting series by saying that I hadn't intended to revisit the topic, and the same is true for this installment. I think it's an extremely interesting phenomenon, but in terms of the history and development of art, I don't think it's a real game-changer (which is a term I've been hearing a lot lately). Bad Painting, or more generally, art that flies in the face of accepted norms of beauty, wholeness, variety, and so on, has clearly become one method of art-making among many others in an era that has no dominant aesthetic or ideology. Lots of curators, artists, and writers are vying for a leading role in defining our peculiar moment in history, and a great deal of money is changing hands as dealers and collectors try and separate the important from the trivial.
So why did I come back to the subject for a fifth go-around if I think that, in overall terms, it only occupies one niche among many? Because I just saw the George Condo retrospective at The New Museum, the venue which codified Bad Painting as a genre way back in 1977. Nothing could be more institutional than a mid-career retrospective, and the institution which hung it is one which built its reputation around institutional critique. The ironies are layered.
The Condo show was mainly ugly and depressing, and I don't necessarily consider this a criticism - it was clearly so by design. Works of art simultaneously posit a set of objectives, and then fulfill those objectives to a greater or lesser degree; viewed from this angle the Condo paintings were a great success. Chronologically, the show starts around the beginning of Reagan's second term, and tracks through to the present - the decline of the Roman empire comes to mind, and the pictures evoke lassitude, decay, consumerism, and death (and fucking). The supporting literature briefly alludes to this, but goes on to laud Condo's old-master technique (!?) and his ability to create empathetic characters (um...).
I'd like to pose an extremely naive question, one that my grandmother might have asked: Why would you set out to make an ugly painting? Without some underlying objective, it would seem like a strange thing to do; counter-intuitive to say the least. The first and simplest explanation is that I need to re-calibrate my idea of what is or isn't ugly - that my taste has been culturally conditioned. I don't feel a real need to linger on this one except to say that it seems symptomatic of tumultuous times: a sustained period in which bad is considered good - or left becomes right, up becomes down, freedom becomes slavery, etc. - must be a time of distinct rupture and upheaval. Few would argue this latter point; the 20th century contained some of the greatest horrors that humans could visit upon one another, and the 21st century is also off to a roaring start.
As is often the case with big questions about contemporary art, a better place to begin would be with Modernism. In the last installment of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," I talked about the specific criteria of Modernism (originality, quality, purity, etc.) and the extent to which Post-Modernism sought to overturn them. I think it's also necessary to pull the camera back and talk about why Modernism was deemed to have been a failure; why all of its central tenets should be flipped on their head.
Early Modernist artists and architects were supposedly making art and architecture that would be the backdrop for a better world; one in which technology, philosophy, and politics all matured at a steady rate and trajectory until societies all over the planet were saner and more humane. The project had its origins in the Enlightenment, when Kant tried to systematize reason and Descartes recognized the importance of the individual perspective. It was made poetic and heroic by the Romantics, and was eventually taken over by Modernism, which combined the heroic with the more scientific approach characteristic of the early Enlightenment figures.
But while America was dropping napalm on Vietnamese civilians, the early Post-Modernists looked back over the first two-thirds of the 20th century and saw the mustard gas and machine guns of WWI, Hitler's camps and Stalin's gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The utopian aspirations of the Modernists seemed like a blood-soaked parody, and not surprisingly, parody became a central strategy of Post-Modernism, along with, among other things, appropriation (the opposite of originality) and amateurism or faux-amateurism (the opposite of quality and professionalism).
The abject nature of the Condo pictures smacks of gallows humor. There is no hope; nothing left but ghastly gags. In his laudatory review of the show in the April, 2011 Artforum, David Rimanelli twice declares: "You want to die. Me too." The literature surrounding Condo talks a great deal about his ravenous and omnivorous tendency for appropriation from various periods in art, but less about his equally strong tendency to present self-consciously debased and degraded versions of those styles.
I opened this essay with a fragment of an Ernst Fischer quote about art in a decaying society, and the necessity for it to face up to that decay. The next part is:
"And unless it wants to beak faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it."
But if you hold a strong belief that the world is in fact not changeable, why try and point to an alternative? Under these conditions, art with a more positive, humanist message becomes little more than a depression-era MGM musical; pure escapism. But then again, if you don't believe that art can change hearts and minds, why would you become an artist? Because you want to die?
As I went through various possible answers to the above questions, this piece got longer and longer and longer - I finally decided that it made more sense to break it up into segments. Expect more on the topic very soon. As always, comments are welcome, and the more penetrating insights will definitely become grist for subsequent posts.
To read previous installments of the Bad Painting series, follow the links below, and make sure to read the comments, some very smart people chimed in:
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, pt. 1
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, pt. 2
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, pt. 3
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, pt. 4
Sunday, April 17, 2011
More upsets and longshots have further clouded the picture for the Kentucky Derby - it's anybody's race at this point. There are five grade-one preps in April that are supposed to highlight the strongest contenders, and none have been won by the favorite.
In reverse order, starting with yesterday's races:
19-1 shot Brilliant Speed took down the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland yesterday, upsetting tepid favorite Santiva.
In an even bigger upset, Archarcharch came from behind to win the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn at 25-1 (shown above). Derby contender The Factor was not a factor, finishing a well-beaten seventh at 4-5.
Last weekend, Uncle Mo, who everyone was talking about as the chosen one, sputtered home third in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. 9-1 shot Toby's Corner won, followed by 21-1 shot Arthur's Tale.
Also on April 9th, 14-1 shot Midnight Interlude beat weak favorite Silver Medallion in the Santa Anita Derby. Midnight Interlude had just won his first maiden special in March, and it was his third try.
The most formful of all these races was the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 3rd, where second choice Dialed In closed strongly to win at 3-1. Soldat, who was the favorite and widely considered to be a strong Derby hopeful came home a disappointing 5th.
I don't know about you, but I'm looking for that super-mega-bomb zillion-dollar longshot superfecta on Derby day. Then I'm going retire to a chalet in Europe and paint landscapes. If I don't hit it, I guess I'll just keep doing the stuff I do now.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Artist and blogger Mark Stone of Henri Art Mag has of late been putting up profiles of Painters I Like, and the posts all possess an extremely rare combination of passion and intelligence. The latest installment is dedicated to the quite terrific Dennis Bellone.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
After Uncle Mo's stunning upset in the Wood Memorial, The Kentucky Derby picture has become mighty murky. It was not clarified much in yesterday's G1 Santa Anita Derby (shown above), as longshot Midnight Interlude won by a neck.
There are two more G1 prep races before the Kentucky Derby: The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and The Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, both next Saturday (4/16). A powerful win in either of those could certainly highlight who, if anyone, will take Uncle Mo's place as the horse to beat on May 7, but then again many think that those races are far too close to the Derby - only three weeks rest in between two grade 1 races is really asking a lot.
Dialed In's strong close in the G1 Florida Derby on April 3 is looking better and better, especially in light of the fact that the big late run is often the right strategy in the Kentucky Derby. But come Derby day, Professor Paulie is going to be looking for a longshot jackpot - remember Giacomo and Mine that Bird?
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
Uncle Mo is the presumed favorite in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but for me there are still a few question marks about this horse that will stay unanswered even if he takes down the G1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct tomorrow as he is expected to do. You ask: "Why so sour, Professor Paulie?"
Uncle Mo supporters certainly have some ammunition: he's won all four of his races, and his two-year-old campaign was superlative: He broke his maiden by open lengths at Saratoga, then took down two prestigious G1 races for two-years-olds: The Champagne at Belmont and The Breeder's Cup Juvenile Churchill. In the maiden race and the BC juvenile, he put up Beyer speed figures greater than 100. Again you ask: "Professor Paulie, what's not to like?"
For whatever reason, great two-year-old form does not necessarily translate to great three-year-old form - I'm thinking of Galloping Grocer, but there are many, many other examples. Before I throw any real money at a Derby horse, I want some proof that that he's maintained the sharpness of his debut season.
Uncle Mo's three-year-old debut (The Timely Writer, shown above) was a non-graded affair with fractions so slow that you might have been able to keep up on your bicycle. Tomorrow's Wood Memorial is overloaded with patsy horses - it's kind of like a Harlem Globetrotters game (what was the name of that team in the green uniforms?). There are two 20-1 shots, three 50-1 shots, and, get ready for it, a 99-1 shot.
I'm not saying he's not a good horse, and he might just be the super-horse, triple-crown winner that many are hoping for. But I'm unconvinced and will remain so even if he wins tomorrow. Depending on how the other big prep races go this month, I might be fishing for a longshot on Derby day.
Here are Paulie's Picks for tomorrow's card at Aqueduct:
1 - Callmetony
11 - Cognito
7 - Digger Karakorum
4 - French Fury
5 - Moon On Fire
2 - Swinging Tune
2 - Ducale
1 - Gold Prospect
3 - History Starts Now
8 - Master Splash
12 - Faulkner
4 - Hook and Lateral
10 - Fortitude
11 - Darrin's Dilemma
13 - Modern Child
10 - Drink At Last Call
6 - Cihangir
7 - Little Wise Guy
7th race, The Comely, Grade 3:
5 - Ava K.
2 - R Holiday Mood
3 - Her Smile
8th race, The Bay Shore, Grade 3:
3 - JJ's Lucky Train
7 - Vengeful Wildcat
2 - Buffum
9th race, The Carter Handicap, Grade 1:
7 - Apriority
10 - Morning Line
6 - Yawanna Twist
10th race, The Wood Memorial, Grade 1:
5 - Uncle Mo
8 - Norman Asbjornson
2 - Toby's Corner
1 - Person of Interest
3 - Con the Cat
12 - True Linnet
Tune in tomorrow night for results and video.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Dialed In looked positively Zenyatta-like today, coming from 14 lengths off the pace to take down the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park today. Soldat, who was the heavy favorite and looks (or looked) to be one of the shorter price horses in the Kentucky Derby was never a factor.
There are four more G1 prep races before the Run for the Roses: The Santa Anita Derby (4/9), The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn (4/16), The Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland (4/16), and one of Professor Paulie's favorite races of the year: The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Presumed Derby favorite Uncle Mo is slated to run, and I've heard he's coming to New York a few days early to sign autographs.
Tune in to No Hassle at the Castle for Wood Memorial coverage later this week; the race is next Saturday, 4/9/11, at The Big A.
Friday, April 1, 2011
My friend and professor, George Hofmann, recently told his story to Mark Stone at Henri Art Magazine, and it's great - an eyewitness account of more than fifty years in the New York art world told by a practitioner. It's required reading as far as I'm concerned