Saturday, June 28, 2008
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
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
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.
Friday, June 6, 2008
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:
1 - Desert Key
11 - Accredit
7 - Commandeered
10 - Golden Weekend
7 - Sixthirteen
6 - Tiz It
4 - Piazza Di Spagna
8 - Smart Enuf
5 - Seeking No More
4 - Forefathers
8 - Firejack
11 - Teide
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
3 - Bella Attrice
2 - Cordilleran Ice
5 - Dr. Jess Jr
1 - Indian Hawke
13 - Law Enforcement
6 - Stonewood
Tune in tomorrow night for results.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
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.