Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 Kentucky Derby Post Positions

The Derby post positions and morning line all came out today. Not surprisingly, I Want Revenge is the favorite on the heels of his breakout Wood Memorial performance. Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile are both posted at 4-1, and Friesan Fire is at 5-1. After that everyone is listed at 15-1 or higher, which makes the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta pools look enticing to say the least.

It's not a particularly courageous position, but I'm siding with the favorite; I was at Aqueduct for the Wood and I Want Revenge's performance was nothing short of astounding. Of course, the fact that his trainer was caught red-handed with a syringe in another horse's stall is cause for concern, but hey, that's why they call it gambling!

Here are the post positions and morning line odds for the Big Race:

1 - West Side Bernie (30/1)
2 - Musket Man (20/1)
3 - Mr. Hot Stuff (30/1)
4 - Advice (30/1)
5 - Hold Me Back (15/1)
6 - Frisean Fire (5/1)
7 - Papa Clem (20/1)
8 - Mine That Bird (50/1)
9 - Join In The Dance (50/1)
10 - Regal Ransom (30/1)
11 - Chocolate Candy (20/1)
12 - General Quarters (20/1)
13 - I Want Revenge (3/1)
14 - Atomic Rain (50/1)
15 - Dunkirk (4/1)
16 - Pioneerof The Nile (4/1)
17 - Summer Bird (50/1)
18 - Nowhere to Hide (50/1)
19 - Desert Party (15/1)
20 - Flying Private (50/1)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 30

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Matador, 1970.

After reading Roberta Smith's Times review of the late Picasso paintings at Gagosian, I was seriously curious to see the show. Smith, so generally cool and somewhat glib even in the face of art that she really likes, gushed about the profundity, the intensity, the genius, the nourishment of the soul, and more. She also claimed that the show exploded the notion that late career Picasso was generally kitsch and little more than what we would refer to in 21st century parlance as a brand. I for one have always felt that way; Picasso after cubism (and before, for that matter) has never sustained my interest for very long. And I became more intransigent in this opinion after I finally saw Guernica in person - it was a big drawing on canvas and it was just ok.

So did the Gagosian show change my mind? Definitely a little. I need to go back once or twice more and I might revise that answer upward. By far the best part of the late work was that he finally seemed to be addressing what had always been his weakest point: color. He was at root a master draughtsman (as evidenced by his always marvelous etchings), and so many of his paintings were either drawings made with paint on canvas - that is, forms described by outlines - or were tonal in character. This latter tendency to rely on tone as opposed to hue might be characterized as inherently Spanish; it can be traced back through Goya to Velazquez. His use of color tended to be quite simple and often trapped by black lines; old school comic book style. Color bounded by lines can't interact with the other colors on the canvas, and so much of the spatial, atmospheric, and emotional effects of painting arise from colors dancing and fighting with each other.

Given all this, I was surprised and pretty delighted with "Head of a Matador." The picture was fresh and genuinely exciting to look at, and not because of the drawing or psychology embedded in the eyes. The various complimentary and close-valued groupings all over the canvas made it crackle like it was plugged in. That great big head, activated in this way, is barely contained by the relatively small canvas, and the resulting scale of the picture seems vastly larger than its actual size (around 3' x 2'). The reds and oranges threaten to float right off of the surface, barely held in place by the surrounding greens, and function almost as pure light. The yellow and white that meet in the upper right make a spotlight so bright that I wanted to squint; showing that same razzle-dazzle so common to Turner.

I even like the mud, which is one of my pet peeves in any of the various strains of expressionism. Gestural handling of oil paint almost always involves mixing paint on canvas which almost always results in that particular pea soup color so common to sophomore painting class. But Picasso leaves half-mixed areas, as in the face and lower right of the hat, and then pairs the half-mixture with a compliment; in the afore-mentioned case, a bright orange. The slight change of hue in the face - little more than a change in temperature - creates a sense of cast shadows even though the cooler blue areas are not significantly darker than the warmer blue-violets. The lack of distinctness of the facial features that results from the two mushy, closely related colors are analogous to the dissolution of edge in Monet, and also conjure up a version of the atmospheric color effects in paintings of the Venetian renaissance.

In the Times piece, Smith speculates as to what other artists Picasso may have been looking at late in his career. She doesn't mention color-field, even though it was at its height of its critical and commercial popularity in the last decade of Picasso's life. He never set foot in the United States, so it's hard to say how much he knew or cared about it, but the color effects he was using in this picture were certainly the same ones being used by Louis, Noland, and Olitski. It's also possible that he finally came to really understand the operating principles of color used by his old friend and rival Matisse, who had died in 1954. Certainly Matisse loomed large over the American color painters of the era.

I still think Picasso made a lot of bad paintings in between cubism and "Head of a Matador." I'm generally inclined to forgive a painter's weak work when I can sense that he or she is moving in a different direction - transition is nearly always marked by awkwardness. For the most part, though, the problems I see in that vast swathe of Picasso's career are not the result of a tortured transition, but of a large ego and an audience eager to applaud whatever he made. In spite of this, some of these last pictures seem to represent a fundamental shift in his handling of color - it would have been really interesting to see what he would have come up with had he made it to 100.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise

I just got home from a rally for the artists/teachers who were purged from fine arts at the Parsons School of Design by the new chair of that department, Coco Fusco. (the Times and Artnet stories on the matter are here and here).

Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows, and It would appear that Ms. Fusco and the embattled administration of New School President Bob Kerrey are at cross-purposes here, even though their short-term desire to get rid of all the painters and sculptors links up nicely.

The putative reason for the firings were "curricular changes" designed to make the Parsons fine arts department more cutting edge. In the opinion of the dept. chair, none of the twelve adjuncts who got the ax were qualified to teach the courses in her new vision for the department, which will be heavily skewed toward political and critical issues, technology, performance, and other forms that don't rely on more traditional studio practices.

The only problem is that she never asked any of those part-time faculty members if they had the interests or skill sets to teach these courses; they just got an e-mail (not even a phone call), saying they were being cut loose. At today's rally, one of the fired faculty members recalled the story of meeting with Ms. Fusco after receiving his e-mail (he had to arrange the meeting, she apparently didn't feel the need to speak to anyone in person). On her desk there was a reproduction of one of Jenny Holzer's signature lines: "Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise." It should be pointed out that Coco Fusco is a leftist/feminist artist who often takes as her subject the critique of oppressive and illegitimate power structures. Ironic, no?

Ms. Fusco may think that she is going to fill the new vacancies with her own choices, but I suspect the Kerrey administration feels differently. The administration's objectives appear to be twofold: first, weaken the union, which Kerrey never wanted or supported (the part-time faculty union was established in 2005). Their second goal, most agree, is to diminish and perhaps eliminate fine arts altogether. Parsons has been slowly moving toward becoming a high-end trade school for quite some time; minimizing courses which have no demonstrable application to a commercial career, and adding new courses and majors that are specifically job-oriented. This is understandable up to a point given the harsh realities of the 21st century, but it's still Art School after all - it's not as though people don't know what they're signing up for.

And it also brings me back to a point that readers of "No Hassle at the Castle" have heard me make many times: The post-modernist art rebels of the '70's and '80's who felt they were marginalized and ignored by the modernist post-war art establishment have now ascended to the positions of power once held by their oppressors. Once in these positions, their behavior seems shockingly similar to those they unseated. History moves in familiar cycles and to quote a famous artist, it Comes as No Surprise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 29

Stuart Davis, Arboretum by Flashbulb, 1942. Oil on canvas, 18" x 36."

Canonical stature is an ever-shifting affair, and I'm rooting for Stuart Davis to eventually get the historical respect that he deserves. Yes, he's in the Metropolitan in New York, but go look at the drop-ceiling and smell the damp-carpet in the room in which this painting hangs (along with several other top-shelf Davis canvases). I mean, come on.

He was post-cubist, pre-pop, proto-op, proto-cool; he knew a lot about color and understood jazz - legend has it that he swapped painting lessons for drum lessons with early Chicago jazz great George Wettling.

And Wettling must have been a pretty good instructor. Look at the opposing rhythms in the picture: the close valued, high-saturation hues hum and vibrate, while the blacks and whites make snappy, contrapuntal accents - analogous to the way the bass and snare drum are used in small group jazz.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Derby Preps Winding Down

The big Kentucky Derby preps pretty much wrapped up yesterday, and the 20 available slots for the first Saturday in May should be filled very soon.

Papa Clem wouldn't be denied in Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, wearing down even-money favorite Old Fashioned in the stretch. Check out 26-1 longshot Summer Bird giving the big boys a little scare at the wire. It was announced last night that Old Fashioned has a fracture, and is out of the Derby hunt. Whether he will continue to race or head straight out to stud is not yet clear.

14-1 shot General Quarters stalked the leaders in mid-pack, swung wide into the lane and upset the favorite Hold Me Back in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. After racing six-wide throughout, Hold Me Back made a bid in the lane but couldn't get there.

In other news, you might recall my astonishment at the way I Want Revenge took down the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last weekend. The colt is trained by Jeff Mullins. Mullins had another horse, Gato Go Win, scheduled to race on that same card in the G3 Bay Shore, but that horse was scratched at the last minute because Mullins was found near the his stall holding a syringe. Oops. Maybe I Want Revenge's big Wood performance involved something more than raw talent.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 28

Henri Matisse, Still-Life with Blue Tablecloth, 1909. Oil on canvas, 35" x 47."

Henri Matisse, Reclining Odalisque, 1926. Oil on canvas, 15" x 22."

Henri Matisse, Seville Still-Life, 1910-11. Oil on canvas, 35" x 46."

Henri Matisse, The Moorish Screen, 1911. Oil on canvas, 36" x 29."

I've been thinking about Matisse a lot lately, for a number of reasons. I'm teaching a color course with a pattern component right now, and needless to say, it's a good time to revisit with a fresh eye a lot of the pictures that I've seen a million times.

Without gushing about his mastery, I'll say this: he was a master. Like his friend Bonnard, he could confound figure and ground without painting abstract pictures; using limited value contrasts to mash objects back into the flattened, shallow space, and using pattern to bring the ground almost all the way up to the picture plane. He could also paint people without making pictures about people, which is a much bigger deal than it sounds like - his figures had no particular psychology to explore, they exist on the same plane (literally and figuratively) as the still-life elements, furniture, textiles, and the other objects and spaces in the pictures. Matisse used color as a leveler of those things, and like all great colorists he made it looks easy, which led (and still leads) many to question the scope of his achievement.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Aqueduct Results, 4/4/09

I Want Revenge today positioned himself as one of the major contenders in the Kentucky Derby with a performance in the Wood Memorial that was nothing short of astounding. He got tangled up in the starting gate, broke in the air, took a couple of stutter-steps toward the rail, and finally joined the race, spotting the leaders around 15 lengths. Generally when a horse blows the start like that, his race is over before it begins, and that's how it looked like it was going to play out for I Want Revenge today. But after running in last for most of the backstretch, he started gaining some ground at the top of the turn. He picked off horses one by one as they were turning for home, then muscled through the center of the pack in deep stretch and won going away. Holy Cow!

There were two other Derby Preps today: The Santa Anita Derby, and the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. Pioneerof the Nile looked tough winning in Santa Anita, but much of the excitement was dulled by the fact that The Pamplemousse was scratched with tendon problems; the showdown between these two was the thing that everyone wanted to see.

Musket Man made a strong move at the top of the stretch at Hawthorne, and managed to hold off Giant Oak in the stretch. It was a solid race, but I still think he's going to be a longshot on Derby Day.

And how did the professor make out at the Big A? Well, I stumbled coming out of the gate and never quite found my footing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 4/4/09

The Wood Memorial, NY's big Derby Prep, is an event I always look forward to. Sadly, this year's running looks to be a bit of a snooze - only eight horses with two of them a coupled entry, and one imposing favorite, I Want Revenge, who is listed in the morning line at 4-5.

Don't get me wrong, though, I'm still going. Other challenges abound on this card, not the least of which is the weather. A chance of rain and heavy winds blowing in from the west means that the picks listed below are a thumbnail sketch, subject to heavy revision based on weather, track bias, scratches, etc. Where others see peril, I see opportunity!

Here are Paulie's picks for tomorrow's card at the Big A:

1st race:
5 - Fregata
1 - Curvature
8 - Friendly Pocket

2nd race:
9 - Quantifier
10 - Weefc
7 - Rnbs Blackwateroll

3rd race:
2 - Leap Day
3 - Gone Astray
5 - Despite the Odds

4th race:
3 - Flat Bold
7 - Just an Investment
2 - Brook Dance

5th race
10 - Doc Can Do
4 - Charging Hero
7 - Another Hades

6th race:
2 - System Restore
9 - Inger Management
7 - Montecore

7th race, the Bay Shore, G3:
6 - Not for Silver
4 - Capt. Candyman Can
2 - Counter Move

8th race, The Excelsior, G3:
6 - Cool Coal Man
1 - Barrier Reef
7 - Atoned

9th race, The Wood Memorial, G1:
2 - I Want Revenge
1a - West Side Bernie
5 - Imperial Council

10th race, The Carter Handicap, G1:
7 - Tale of Ekati
3 - True Quality
4 - Fabulous Strike

11th race:
10 - The Shaughraun
8 - Willsboro Point
1 - Counting House

Tune in tomorrow night for results.