Sunday, May 31, 2009

George Hofmann at Martinez Gallery

George Hofmann, "Breaking Joy," 2008. Acrylic on linen, 67" x 48."

The Essential George Hofmann at Martinez Gallery in Troy, New York is a mini-retrospective of 50+ years of the artist's work. There are certainly some high water marks on display from his previous stages, but Hofmann is currently making what I consider to be the finest paintings of his long career. About a third of the paintings exhibited are from the past year, and many of the formal issues that the painter has been working out for quite literally decades are now being adressed with flair: color, gesture, space, and edge all coalesce with the kind of confidence that could lull the casual viewer into thinking it was easy. This is in an enviable position - so many artists who reach the point where a retrospective seems in order have long since past their peak. Hofmann, Like Mondrian, Monet, and Titian, is mining new pictorial ideas well into his mature period.

Hofmann is steeped in the grammar of two successive periods in painting centered in and around NYC. The Abstract Expressionists were older than him, and he venerated them while still quite young; he was particularly moved by their efforts to mine the sub-conscious and evoke the sublime through an intuitive, gestural handling of paint. Hofmann has always asserted emotion as the primary issue in his work, and this is largely modeled on the example set by the post-war New York School. The other influence that looms large is the color-field group that immediately followed Ab Ex. They were also a little older than Hofmann, but closer to his own generation, and Jules Olitski was a friend and mentor of sorts early in the younger artist's career. Olitski's spray-gun paintings, which created the experience of color as a kind of disembodied cloud, swelling in and in front of the picture plane made a strong impression on Hofmann as a developing painter.

In the formal sense, these two camps are in many ways at odds with one another. Color and gesture do not always work well together, and many of the Ab Ex painters, like Franz Kline, simply skipped it in favor of an achromatic palette - color, when mushed around too much, turns into pea soup in a hurry. Another big difference between the gesture painters and the color painters had to do with the center of the canvas; the former group tended to fill it up and the latter to leave it open. This marvelous openness achieved by the color group had an Achilles' Heel, though: what to do with the edge. Without some notation, the picture might look like an arbitrary sample of a much larger piece of something; but with too much framing, the openness could be choked off.

Balancing the above issues, some of which are quite contradictary, are at the heart of Hofmann's project, and the new works address them all. In Breaking Joy (2008, pictured above), the transparent grey-violet in the center of the picture partially obscures and serves to lash down a vibrant red, keeping it from visually detaching from the surface. The red, itself like a pool or cloud, appears to be in front of an impastoed green and white closer to the top. The spatial organization here is counter-intuitive; the natural expectation is that the materiality of the impasto would aggressively bring it to the surface. But the red is strong in hue despite it's thinned-out application - it presses the green and white, thicker in fact but weaker in hue, back into the shallow space.

More than half of the spectrum is present in the picture, from green to blue to violet to red-violet to red, but the reading is of one open, continuous veil with a small tear where the red meets the impasto green and white. The color feels expansive and spreading, but small flecks of raw canvas on the right and bottom, the small dots of violet on the top, and the loose "L" shape of the blue on the left and bottom left, make the picture fully anchored to it's shape and size, even as it feels like it is growing far beyond its edges. It is large in fact, but enormous in its perceived scale.

Hofmann has been practicing gestural abstraction single-mindedly for decades and the results are impressive. It would be easy to get stuck when working within such a time-honored idiom, but the painter's recent investigations and inventions, particularly as they relate to color, make the pictures feel fresh. The shows stays up until June 20, and I highly recommend it. Martinez Gallery is located at 3 Broadway in Troy, NY.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Belmont Results, 5/30/09

At least the weather was nice.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 5/30/09

Marvelous news was recently delivered by the Long Island Railroad after a brief but calamitous turn of events. Earlier this year, the LIRR announced that because of deep budget deficits, cuts would have to be made in service - among them the train that provided service from Penn station to Belmont Park. Horrors!

The racing industry freaked out and I freaked out, but happily, cooler heads prevailed and service was restored this week. The State of New York is essentially the bookie here, and I really don't think they could stand another broadside to NY racing; an industry which is already in steep decline. Some say it's a sport that will be no more in the not too distant future. Where will I find titles for my paintings?

So, at noon tomorrow I'll be riding one of my favorite trains to one of my favorite places. Picks are below, subject to revision based on how soggy the turf and dirt are after all the rain we've had this week.

1st race:
4 - Bad Action
6 - Berning Blaze
7 - Pop Panebianco

2nd race:
6 - Ballythunder
7 - Soonasigetpaid
8 - Fort McCoy

3rd race:
5 - Prince of Iron
7 - Debating
6 - Japengo

4th race:
3 - Cool Coal Man
2 - Discreet Treasure
4 - Fierce Wind

5th race:
2 - Storm Hope
3 - Quiet On the Tee
8 - Cops Fever

6th race:
5 - Miller's Mint
4 - Blue Bullet
1a - Gold Close to Home

7th race:
1 - Personal Shopper
10 - Hero Figure
8 - William Thomas

8th race:
2 - La Hernanda
6 - Scolara
9 - Shadiyna

9th race:
4 - Gozzip Girl
5 - Fast Tigress
1 - Bluegrass Princess

10th race:
3 - Evolutionist
1 - Wild Entry
7 - Spanish Art

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ytj, lol

I saw this on the train today - the writers for Saturday Night Live really couldn't have done any better.

Highly educated people chose this to be in a major museum exhibition; they discussed it at length and with great sobriety before deciding to include it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Richard Garrison at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center

Richard Garrison is an artist whose life and work seem quite at odds. His usual subject is the jetsam and flotsam of suburban culture; specifically the leftovers and empty spaces that are the by-products of middle-class consumption. But Garrison is not an urbanite sneering at suburbia - he lives there, and does so without a note of irony. He has a nice house on a nice block, a lovely wife and two little girls, and most of the consumer detritus that makes up the material and content of his work is actually stuff that he and his family consumes. I went to a barbeque there this past weekend; the hamburgers and hot dogs were terrific and the garden is coming in nicely.

The Spencertown Academy Arts Center recently hung a survey of Garrison's projects from the last two years entitled "American Color." Included were a series of works based on colors seen at fast food drive-through windows and another comprised of colors found in circulars from chain stores, both done in watercolor. A series of collages was made with square swatches cut from boxes of breakfast cereal, tissues, detergent, and so on, transforming what was ostensibly garbage (recyclable, of course) into glossy, flickering mosaics.

The reason that I like Garrison's work is because it looks really good, and I'm not being glib. As evidenced by the descriptions above, his underlying critique could easily be a recipe for tedious didacticism. But it's not - the work is visually compelling because Garrison's systems for sequencing his data are not aesthetically neutral; he knows how to make a picture, and his decisions in terms of scale, media, and the many other small details that are not specifically germane to the information he collects are not incidental to his project - far from it; these things are very much the art part.

By far my favorite works in the show took a slightly different approach to the notion of the store-bought suburban experience. Garrison has at different points in his career made large-scale drawings using a Spiro-Graph. Anyone of my generation remembers this magical device which allowed you to make groovy abstract art right there on the shag rug in front of the TV. Garrison's creations are not the floral, vaguely psychedelic arabesques one would expect; he employs the stubborn aesthetic (or non-aesthetic) of the minimalists to make long, insistent, overlapping tubes. From a short distance, the colors optically blend into near-solids, and from close up, they have the intricacy of currency. I have a particular weakness for art that looks like it might be made by a machine but turns out to be made by hand. The Spiro-Graph, interestingly, is both.

Nice work, Rich, and thanks again for the hot dogs.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beat the Meatles

Dick Cheney: guitar, vocals, torture
Newt Gingrich: bass, vocals, tax cuts
Rush Limbaugh: guitar, vocals, torture, tax cuts
Sean Hannity: drums, vocals, torture, tax cuts

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Supergirl Wins the Day!

The horse that surprised me the most today wasn't Rachel Alexandra, who did what she was expected to do, but Mine that Bird. On a dry strip I (and many) expected him to do little, but he picked off a dozen horses and was still closing at the line. I think I like his chances in the Belmont - if he had a little more track he might have won today.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Supergirl vs. Underdog

For everyone that hasn't been following all of the intrigue and maneuvering leading up to the Preakness at Pimlico tomorrow, here's a recap:

Rachel Alexandra, the superlative filly who crushed the Kentucky Oaks by 20+ lengths was not nominated to the triple crown by her original owners (a horse is nominated via a fee paid by the owners prior to the Kentucky Derby). Dolphus Morrison and Mike Lauffer were planning to run their horse in the Oaks and were then considering starting her in the Belmont Stakes in June, which they could enter by paying a supplemental fee as long as all of the available slots were not taken by triple crown nominees.

After her outstanding Oaks performance, the star filly was purchased from Morrison and Lauffer by Jess Jackson, owner of the celestial Curlin, for between three and four million dollars. Jackson immediately announced his intention to run her in the Preakness.

The Preakness is limited to fourteen starters, and like all the triple crown races, preference is given to nominees. The rules state that if there are any available slots left over they can be had via a supplemental fee (in this case $100,000).

There were available slots, but the owners of the other horses initially planned to fill them with nominees that they were not planning to run in order to keep the super-filly out. This was especially important to Mine That Bird's connections, because their rider, Calvin Borel, had agreed to ride Rachel Alexandra in all her races this year (he rode her in the Oaks). Borel's rail skimming ride was a huge part of Mine That Bird's 50-1 upset in the Derby.

In the end, the other owners relented, and Rachel is in. Mike Smith, who piloted Giacomo to a 50-1 upset in the 2005 Derby will climb aboard Mine That Bird.

So Rachel Alexandra is the morning line favorite for the race, and on paper looks head and shoulders above the boys. She'll attempt to become the first filly to win the Preakness since Nellie Morse did it in 1924, but she's probably not aware of this.

This is all very nice in terms of girlpower, but the betting opportunities are stingy. She's going to open at 8-5, and will certainly go down from there, probably to even money.

So what's a bettor to do? As good as she clearly is, she's coming in to this race on only two weeks rest after, which is not much after a big performance, and that makes her beatable. She can't be left out of the exotics, though, so I'm planning to wheel a couple of upset candidates around her in the exacta and trifecta pools.

And the upset candidates are:

Friesan Fire, who is a good horse that ran a stinky race in the Derby. His performance was so bad, that he'll surely be underbet. He's opening at 6-1, and he's a lot better than that.

Mine That Bird, who's been given very little respect since winning the Derby, will also open at 6-1. It's supposed to rain in Baltimore tomorrow, and he's pretty clearly a mudlark - if the track is wet, I'm going to include him on all my tickets.

Big Drama, opening at 10-1, is a speed horse who drew the rail slot on a speed-favoring track. If the strip is dry, I'll include him on a bunch of tickets, too.

And for those who missed the betting bonanza at the Derby, there are three 50-1 shots in the Preakness as well: Luv Gov, Flying Private, and Tone it Down. Remember, all you need is a dollar and a dream.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's That Smell?

I thought that I had heard all of the arguments as to why painting was dead or illegitimate, but I just stumbled across a new one in the May, 2009 issue of Artforum. In a short review of a show at the Seattle Art Museum entitled "Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78," Sarah K. Rich writes:

"No matter its content or its formal attributes, painting is a medium that reproduces bourgeois ideology all too legibly; Its emphasis on visual effects partakes in a distribution of sensory labor that disenfranchises touch and other senses; its two-dimensional retreat from real space suggests something like bourgeois decorum (unlike sculpture, which is always barging in).

Apparently, painting discriminates against the remaining four senses! Does this mean that Ms. Rich would be somewhat more sympathetic to art that stinks?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don Voisine at McKenzie Fine Art

"High Time," 2008. Oil on wood, 44" x 44."

"Connection," 2007. Oil on wood, 17" x 26."

"Thru and Thru," 2009. Oil on wood, 32" x 60."

"Weave," 2009. Oil on wood, 16" x 26."

"I-Yi," 2009. Oil on wood, 12" x 12."

Don Voisine's current solo exhibition at McKenzie Fine Art is in this viewer's opinion some of the painter's finest work to date. Voisine has mastered the manipulation of black on a par with Reinhardt and certain works by Manet.

His vocabulary is, as always, Spartan. The palette is quite limited: black and white plus primary and secondary hues, sometimes left saturated and sometimes tinted, toned, or shaded. There is always a central black shape and sometimes two; the shape is very often an "X." There is always a colored framing device, often top and bottom, but sometimes left and right. The framing device is generally two colors. Doesn't sound like much, does it? Well, guess again.

The black shapes, internally differentiated with subtle variations in value and surface sheen create spaces within the dark forms that evoke night-time landscapes. Because the values are so close, any given black can be seen as proceeding or receding depending on the viewer's area of focus - looking at a given black tends to draw it out. While looking in this mode, the white triangular shapes appear as figure; almost like opaque shards of broken glass that, with the colored framing devices, create a kind of window into the unstable, inky space behind.

But the black shapes can also switch to the role of figure on a white ground, bounded by the color bars. The blacks retain a kind of spatiality in this mode, but the space is one of overlapping forms as opposed to hazy atmosphere. While viewed as in this way, the black shapes begin pushing at the frame articulated by the colored bars, as if the shapes were too large to be contained by the framing edge of the pictures. Because of this phenomenom, the scale of the pictures is quite large; much larger than the actual size would suggest (the largest picture in the show is 60" x 60").

And these two different figure and ground modalities continually alternate as you view the pictures, each with it's own intricacies and shifting space. Voisine gives you a hell of a lot to look at with a handful of shapes and colors; it's less-is-more done very, very well.

McKenzie fine art is located at 511 West 25th St. in Chelsea, and the show stays up until June 6. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

OMG, pt. 4!

It was apparently an open question for a minute, but it's been decided - Mine That Bird is going to race in the Preakness on May 16th. It looks like the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishers - Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man, and Papa Clem - are all going to be there, too.

Here are some of the payouts from the Derby, based on a $2 bet:

Win: $103.20
Exacta: $2,074.80
Trifecta: $41,500.60
Superfecta: $557,006.40

Sunday, May 3, 2009

OMG, pt. 3!

Mine That Bird jockey Calvin Borel, above, looking just as puzzled as the rest of us.

Here are some media snippets about Mine That Bird's 50-1 Kentucky Derby upset:

Carl Nafzger, noted trainer and two-time winner of the Derby:

"He's from New Mexico, you know."

Harvey Araton, The New York Times:

"Nobody died running the Kentucky Derby this year, but an unlikely legend was born."

Gary West, The Fort Worth Star Telegram:

"And Mine That Bird's [50/1] odds should have been longer, much longer, War and Peace long, because he's a nobody from nowhere."

Mike Lopresti, USA Today:

"A 50-1 shot came home first at Churchill Downs Saturday. It's 50-1 that double cheeseburgers will officially be declared a health food. It's 50-1 that I wake up tomorrow and can dunk."

Pat Forde, ESPN:

"Not a single sane individual saw this coming."

Paul Moran,

"What the...?"

Calvin Borel:

"You got a hole, you got a shot."

Chip Wooley, Mine That Bird's Trainer:

"Nobody wanted to talk about my horse. They wanted to talk about all that other stuff."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

OMG, pt. 2!


I Want Revenge has been scratched due to an ankle injury!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Kentucky Doings

Rachel Alexandra
looked like Wonder Woman crushing the Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths today. Wow! Her connections were apparently considering running her against the boys in the Derby, and now I'll bet they wish they had. Some Derby trivia: 38 fillies have run and only three have won: Winning Colors in 1988, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Regret in 1915.

And speaking of the Derby, it looks like it's going to be a wet one. Most of these horses haven't run in the mud, and their breeding yields very few clues as to how they will do. The mud tends to favor front runners, though, for the simple reason that horses, like people, don't like to have mud kicked in their face.

I'm sticking with my pick for I Want Revenge, who looks much the best on paper. But, as handicappers are fond of pointing out, horse races are not run on paper, so I'm going to cover a few other numbers as well. Plus, I Want Revenge's odds are going to be so anemic (he's opening at 3/1 and will surely get bet down from there) that I'm hunting around for some good longshot, exacta, and trifecta plays.

In my opinion, the most intriguing opportunities are the bottom-tier speedballs - horses who would be little more than a pace factor on a dry strip. If the track is sloppy, I'm going to use Join in the Dance at 50/1, Desert Party at 15/1, and Atomic Rain at 50/1 (although I might leave this last one out).

All the other short-odds horses - Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, and Friesan Fire - really have to be left in the mix, but if one of those wacky 50-1 shots find their way in to the exacta, it'll be disco dancing and banana daiquiris at the castle tomorrow night!