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.