Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ornette Coleman Quartet, Rome, 1974

77-year-old Ornette Coleman collapsed onstage from heat stroke last week at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. Happily, he was released from the hospital after a relatively short stay. Get well fast, Ornette, and drink more water!

Court Watch, pt. 2

The Court issued another 5-4 ruling today which will make it difficult for public school systems to take measures to preserve racial diversity. Segregation, here we come. Again.

An interesting side-story: Scalia, now drunk with power and most likely cranky that he is not chief justice, is taking potshots at Roberts. As I mentioned in an earlier post, when the court neutered MacCain-Feingold, Roberts language was restrained and pious, arguing that his real concern was the preservation of the first amendment. Scalia, in a separate opinion, accused Roberts of being a phoney who was exercising "faux judicial modesty," saying that Roberts should have just come right out and said he aimed to overturn the law. Can you believe it? Scalia said something that I agree with!

The word fascist understandably gets tossed around quite a bit these days, but Scalia's dad actually was one. He received his doctorate at the Casa Italiano at Columbia in the 30's, and at that time you had to swear an oath to Mussolini in order to attend.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Thelonious Monk, Epistrophy, Paris, 1966

Repression Starts on Tuesday

The Bush administration is basically at an end, and a lot of people are already tallying up the damage. Most of W's dismal legacy hangs on the Iraq debacle, but only in recent weeks have the consequences of the Roberts/Alito Supreme Court come into sharp focus. These are lifetime appointments, folks.

They've ruled in favor of restrictions on abortion, chosen developers over the environment, denied citizens the right to challenge Bush's faith-based initiative, and refused to hear a suit which alleges that two pharma giants conspired to monopolize the market on a breast cancer drug. Even the people who expected the worst are in shock at just how quickly this court lurched right, laughing at precedent all the way.

But two wildly inconsistent free-speech decisions handed down today really underscore the court's political agenda. In the first 5-4 ruling, the justices defanged McCain-Feingold, making it easier for private entities to funnel money to political campaigns via so-called "issue ads." Roberts stated with great piety: “the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.”

The second decision revolved around an Alaskan high school student named John Frederick, who held up a banner saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at a 2002 Olympic Torch Relay ceremony. Frederick was not on school grounds at the time, but the principal saw fit to suspend him for 10 days for his subversive, pro-narcotics message. Frederick sued, claiming the punishment infringed on his right to free speech. Today the court ruled, again 5-4, in favor of the principal. Clearly, Frederick's Animal House-esque banner is far more dangerous to the republic than spending large amounts of money to influence the outcome of an election.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hey Dad, What's a Sesamoid?

Apparently I'm not going to miss out on seeing Invasor after all - while working out at Belmont yesterday morning he injured his sesamoid, ending his racing career, but beginning his career as a stud, which should be quite lucrative. Right now, the highest stud fee belongs to Storm Cat at $500,000 per session (which is still done in the old-fashioned way).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Belmont Results and Other News

A so-so outing: I cashed a few tickets including a trifecta and a decent exacta, but got beaten by a nose a few too many times to finish on the bright side of the books. Still, the game seemed less impenetrable than it has in recent weeks.

The future of NYRA and Aqueduct are still up in the air, and it looks like the state legislature is going to delay any decisions on the matter until after Labor Day. NYRA's president, Charles Hayward, says that he's feeling optimistic, bless his heart, and this is undoubtedly due to the fact that Albany has more or less conceded that NYRA, and not New York State, does in fact own the land that the three tracks stand on. The latest version of the Spitzer plan would give NYRA a 20-year renewal of the New York racing franchise, sell Aqueduct (!) to pay off NYRA's creditors (NYRA is in bankruptcy), and grant the slot machine franchise to the politically well-connected Excelsior Racing Associates. Belmont would get slots and and a winterized inner track which would allow them to take over Aqueduct's winter meeting. Man, I'm going to miss The Big A.

I'm also a little cranky that I'm going to miss the big "I" - Invasor, who took down the mighty Bernardini in the Breeder's Cup Classic and won Horse of the Year in 2006, is running in the Suburban Handicap next weekend at Belmont, and I can't go. I hate when the responsibilities associated with being a grown-up get in the way of the really important things in life.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 6/23/07

Regular readers of "Paulie's Picks" have begun to notice that 2007 has not been the best of years for this particular handicapper, so much so that a good friend suggested I stop publishing my racetrack prognostications for a while.

Not a bit of it! Like all true horseplayers, I operate under the firm belief that my losing streak is about to draw to a close, and the next trip to the track will be my best ever. And in that sunny, optimistic spirit, here are my picks for tomorrow's Belmont card (editor's note: even though Paulie is feeling sunny and optimistic, it doesn't mean you should. Bet these horses at your own risk):

1st race:
1 - For Gill
3 - Catch My Cat
7 - Slick City Nites

2nd race:
1 - Clifton Bay
8 - Star Dixie
6 - Queens Full

3rd race:
4 - Americanus
3 - Ice Man Cometh
2 - Precise Alloy

4th race:
4 - Jets Only
12 - Sense of Speed
11 - Really Rollicking

5th race:
3 - Estimator
8 - Winaway
9 - Bonus Size

6th race:
5 - Lahudood
1 - Wingspan
2 - Brantley

7th race:
8 - Cammy's Choice
2 - Western Sweep
5 - Brown Eyed Belle

8th race:
2 - Jade Queen
3 - Vacare
4 - Barancella

9th race:
5 - You Sure
1 - Elder Skatesman
10 - I'll Make It Up

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Paintings I Like, pt. 9

Henri Matisse. The Red Studio, 1911. Oil on canvas, 72" x 86."

This picture epitomizes the notion of the "optical space" in painting - a space with a certain kind of dimensionality which you can imagine entering and moving through, but not with your body, just your vision.

The red floor and walls, all of essentially equal value and density, bring the ground right up to the picture plane, but the diagrammatic lines and the small retrospective of Matisse's works from that time carries me around the space almost as if on a guided tour. There's a wide point of entry at the center bottom; my eye follows the edge of the table past the plant and bottle to the reclining nude, then around the room, pausing at the pictures, grandfather clock, and sculptures, finally resting in the chairs in the lower right - much like the trajectory I would probably have followed in the actual room.

Matisse had the magical ability to create a flat, patterned space in which color was the dominant aspect without ever turning to abstraction. This is a much rarer accomplishment than you might think - representation of any kind has a tendency to throw purely visual concerns into the back seat.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I'll Take Two

Zeitgeist or jewel heist? You decide.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Tyranny of the Zeitgeist

Ward Jackson, Chillohowie, 1971. Acrylic on linen, 36" x 36," courtesy Metaphor Contemporary Art.

Zeit·geist (tsīt'gīst')
- noun, German
the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

About a week ago I attended a panel discussion about a marvelous and grossly under-recognized painter named Ward Jackson. A question was posed to the panelists as to the number of Ward Jacksons in recent history; painters of a very high caliber whose work was generally overlooked. Just how many are there?

The consensus, obviously, is that there are far too many to calculate, but Jed Perl (one of the panelists) outlined what he considered to be the reason why: Being in sync with the zeitgeist, he said, has become the ultimate measure of success for art and artists. If the artist is not addressing it in an immediately recognizable way, he or she is often considered anachronistic or irrelevant.

Perl went on to conjecture that all art of consequence was in fact in some kind of dialogue with the zeitgeist, but often in a more personal and circuitous way; not always evident at first glance and not always in full agreement with the art world's prevailing intrpretation(s) of it. Demanding a front-and-center approach runs roughshod over the personal and highly individual nature of art and artists.

I've been thinking about this ever since. Of course he's right, but there's an interesting irony at play. When post-modernism slew the dragon known as Clement Greenberg, part of the new compact was that arbitrary measures of quality were considered a relic of the old regime. Quality became a dirty word, simply a reflection of the power group's taste and their ability to enforce it. All very sound reasoning, especially in light of Greenberg's increasingly strident insistence on flatness and a reiteration of the framing edge, not to mention the white-males-only nature of his inner circle.

But the dismissal of the notion of quality created an unusual problem. Inclusion and a multifarious approach to making and showing art is clearly a good thing. But some exercise of judgement is still always made when curating or reviewing an art exhibition. Work is never hung in museums or galleries on a first-to-arrive basis; judgments are rendered, most work is rejected. The cover story here is that post-post-modern rejections are not made on the basis of quality, but on the basis of cultural relevance, i.e. proximity to the zeitgeist. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

As the notion of quality was being assailed in the late 60's, Greenberg himself pointed out that in more informal settings, art world intellectuals never stopped using the language of quality: "this show was great," or "that show stunk." But in print, in the classroom, or any other more official setting the language had changed dramatically.

The real sea-change was in fact semantic; the abolition of quality as a yardstick never really took place. Even in today's all-over-the-place art world, the same handful of dominant themes continually resurface; if I see one more show about identity accompanied by a banal catalog essay on the subject I'm certainly going to puke.

It's a funny thing; until this week, it never really occurred to me that rebelling against this particular criterion - communion with the zeitgeist - was a necessity. Manet is one of my heroes, and even as he looked back at Velazquez he was in perfect sync with 19th century modernity; perhaps the first real painter of the zeitgeist. I've always taken it as an article of faith that the self-conscious expression of modernity should be a primary goal. Now I'm not so sure.

It comes down to the old question as to whether art is the mirror that reflects the culture or the hammer that shapes it. If the artist takes the role of mirror, he or she must follow instead of lead. Depiction of the zeitgeist is a necessarily passive position, and it requires a lot more television than I'm willing to watch.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Belmont Results, 6/9/07

What s day! Rags to Riches became the first filly in 102 years to beat the boys in the Belmont Stakes, Todd Pletcher won his very first Triple Crown race, and Paulie lost yet another shirt. Hooray!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 6/9/07

Well, tomorrow's the biggest day of the year in New York racing: The Belmont Stakes. A few things have changed since I made my early pick for the race: Street Sense and Circular Quay are both out, which eliminates Curlin's chief rival and the best closer, respectively.

There are only seven horses in the race, and despite a couple of wild cards, it looks to be Curlin's for the taking. On paper, there are only two really credible opponents, but both have some pretty big asterisks. Hard Spun, 2nd in the Derby and 3rd in the Preakness, gets a new rider, but his front-running style puts him at a big disadvantage at a mile-and-a-half; I'm betting that he doesn't even land in the trifecta. Rags to Riches has the class and the right running style, but a filly hasn't beaten the boys in the Belmont Stakes since 1905. I don't think she'll win, but I'm pretty sure she'll hit the board.

Here are my picks for the whole card, which features a fistful of other classy graded stakes:

1st race:
2 - Lord Snowdon
5 - Executive Search
7 - Grand Champion

2nd race:
9 - Prom Party
8 - Risky Agenda
1 - Slewfoundmoney

3rd race:
4 - Hesanoldsalt
1 - A.P. Arrow
3 - Papi Chullo

4th race:
5 - Bird of play
9 - Smoky Chimney
10 - Defrereoftheheart

5th race:
7 - Meribel
11 - Fantastic Shirl
8 - Criminologist

6th race, The True North Handicap (G2):
5 - Bordanaro
1 - Dashboard Drummer
1a - Suave Jazz
2 - Council Member

7th race, The Just a Game (G2):
5 - Wait a While
2 - My Typhoon
1 - Take the Ribbon

8th race, The Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup (G2):
2 - Deadly Dealer
8 - Street Magician
3 - Stormello

9th race, The Acorn (G1):
3 - Christmas Kid
1 - Dream Rush
6 - Boca Grande

10th race, The Manhattan Handicap (G1):
2 - English Channel
7 - Better Talk Now
3 - Sky Conqueror

11th race, The Belmont Stakes (G1):
3 - Curlin
7 - Rags to Riches
1 - Imawildandcrazyguy

12th race:
2 - Sweet Corredor
5 - Quiet Rendition
9 - Heavenly Anna

13th race:
9 - Jackie's Punt
3 - Stately Pegasus
10 - Bachelornumberone

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Paintings I Like, pt. 8

Diego Velázquez, Innocent X, 1650. Oil on canvas, 56" x 47."

I'm going to resist the temptation to reel off superlatives about this portrait, I'll just offer this: apparently Pope Innocent X was unhappy with it because he said it was "too real."

Giovanni Battista Pamphili (his real name) was a voracious art collector, and his will stipulated that his collection could not be broken up after his death. The Doria Pamphili collection in Rome, which houses this picture and the equally impressive Bernini portrait-bust, is testament to the fact that wealth and a good eye are not always companions. The vast majority of the collection could be housed in the dumpster, and the history of western art would be none the worse for it.