Saturday, October 31, 2009

From "My Sad Self," Allen Ginsberg, 1958

Sometimes when my eyes are red
I go up on top of the RCA Building
and gaze at my world, Manhattan -
my buildings, streets I've done feats in,
lofts, beds, coldwater flats
- on Fifth Ave below which I also bear in mind,
its ant cars, little yellow taxis, men
walking the size of of specks of wool -
Panorama of the bridges, sunrise over Brooklyn machine,
sun go down over New Jersey where I was born
& Paterson where I played with ants -
my later loves on 15th Street,
my greater loves of Lower East Side,
my once fabulous amours in the Bronx
faraway -
paths crossing in these hidden streets,
my history summed up, my absences
and ecstasies in Harlem -
- sun shining down on all I own
in one eyeblink on the horizon
in my last eternity -
matter is water.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Open Letter to Mike Bloomberg

Dear Mike;

As of last week, you've spent in excess of $85 million on your re-election bid, and with your final-week media blitz you're projected to spend between $110 and $140 million total. Wow! Your opponent, William Thompson, has spent $6 million so far.

In 2001 you spent $73 million compared to Mark Green's $17.3 million, and in 2005 you spent $85 million compared to Freddy Ferrer's $10.6 million.

You've set a brand new record! At around $250 million total (so far), no one in the history of the United States has spent more money than you in the pursuit of public office. Congratulations!

There's really no need to spend so much, though - if you're unhappy with the result of the election, you can just have the City Council change it for you.

All the best,
Paul and the No Hassle at the Castle staff

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Paintings I Like, pt. 38

Today I went up to the Metropolitan Museum here in NYC to see the exhibition of samurai swords and armor. The show was a lot of fun, but I was disappointed to find out that no photography was permitted - I had brought a little point and shoot in the hope of putting some pics here on No Hassle at the Castle.

After I finished looking, it occurred to me that of all the times I've been to the Met over the last twenty-plus years, I don't think I've ever had a camera with me. So I marched around for quite a while happily snapping some of my favorites from the collection. I knew I looked just like a tourist, but got over it quickly enough. Here are a few of the things I looked at today:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Making Things

I've been re-reading quite a bit of Marx lately. Obviously, his most famous statements deal with the oppression and alienation inherent in wage labor, but his historical conception of mankind as homo faber isn't talked about quite as much. It's such a beautiful theory, and very resonant for artists (at least for this one). According to Marx, the defining characteristic of man from pre-history onward is not specifically language, civil society, democracy, or any of the other special capacities that separate us from the animals - it's the skill we display in making things. Everything else; politics, religion, law, and even language spring up because of and in response to the things we make.

Beavers make dams and bees make hives, but humanity does something more. To almost all of the things it makes, it applies an aesthetic standard. The handle of a hammer is designed to fit a hand, but its gentle and graceful curves are certainly not simply a feature of functionality. Further, after it has made all of the things necessary for survival (or, like the hammer, tools to that end), humanity makes things that it wants but doesn't need. And the ultimate celebration of these two facts is art. It has no survival function, yet it exists in virtually every society in history on every continent.

As readers of No Hassle at the Castle well know, I love painting, and I'm often left with an icy cold feeling in the face of readymades, things made to look clumsy or amateurish on purpose, or things whose primary function is critical. As I go back through various passages of Marx, I can see that the vague feeling of sadness I get looking at things from this latter group comes from the dimunition, to various degrees, of the artist fully expressing her creative and productive powers, both in terms of her specific individuality and our collective capacity as a species.

Which is not to say I don't find excitement in ideas - this is, after all, what I'm responding to in Marx. But when I'm looking at art (as opposed to reading an essay) I want to see a thing. I want it to be an aesthetic thing which has a great deal of the maker's time, skill, commitment, experience, and personal expression invested in it. When I can perceive all of these things in a work of art, I not only feel the artist's fully developed humanity and autonomy but my own as well. At the highest level, it's a feeling of exuberance and elation. Not in the religious sense, in which a transcendence of the flesh is the desired effect, but in the sense that with all of our physical limitations, with gravity, sickness, and ultimately death, we can still do this miraculous thing. Conversely, it's hard for me to look at the self-alienation of an art object from which the maker purposefully creates a critical or ironic distance.

Marx, like most of the major thinkers throughout history, is open to multiple interpretations, many being quite contradictory, Coming out of the '60's, the prevailing interpretation of Marxist theory as it related to art was that that a painting or sculpture was little more than a saleable fetish object, the material residue of the most important aspect of art, which was the transmission of the art idea from the mind of the artist to the mind of the viewer. The most rigorous application of this view could be seen in Conceptual Art, especially in certain works by Kosuth and Bochner. In this view the art object was little more than a commodity, and the rapciousness and lack of discernment of a certain kind of collector, which was brought to a crescendo in the '90's and early '00's, seemed to bolster that view.

But if one applies Marx's theory of humanity and takes a closer look at his economic theory, it yields a different view. If art is in fact the highest level of development of mankind's awesome ability to create, made so by the fact that it celebrates this capacity purely and with no practical utility in mind, then obviously the greatest examples are rare and very, very precious. And all things that are recognized as precious by the society at large are, sadly, coveted by the very wealthy.

The problem here lies not with art or art objects, it lies within political and economic systems that allow for vast private fortunes. No work of art, no matter if it is dematerialized or purposely made to look ugly or clumsy or made of ephemeral materials, can escape or resist. If it is deemed to be art of a very high order by the recognized tastemakers in a given society, the very wealthy will want to own it. And further, taking steps to try and reduce the preciousness of art in order to resist are tantamount to a kind of self-mutilation on the part of the artist. These things will only be heralded by the minority of viewers who feel that the avoidance of collectors (and not the expression of essential humanity and a highly personal vision) is the artists' primary goal. And ironically, if that constituency is viewed as credible this art will, at least for a while, become precious and the rich will want it anyway.

Early in his career Marx was strongly influenced by Hegel, and in the latter's Master and Slave dialectic from the Phenomenology of Spirit, the seeds can be found for Marx's theory of the deep meaning humans find in making things and also of its potential for alienation. In Hegel, the master has the slave make things for him. And the more time and skill the slave displays in his various crafts, the more the things he makes become his own - his personality is so thoroughly stamped on the objects as a result of his time and talent that they are more his than the master's. The master, according to Hegel, can only take a limited amount of pleasure in these things, because while he owns the slave, he can only provisionally own the fruits of his labor. Metaphysically, the slave is free because of this.

This last point is where Hegel's idealism and Marx's materialism diverge. The slave is not free, according to Marx; he is still very much a slave. And because he is not permitted to enjoy the objects of his own production, the things he makes become alienated from him. This process of alienation is exacerbated by the division of labor, brought to new heights during the industrial revolution, wherein the maker seldom saw the beginning or end of his production, had no say in it's design or shape, and was completely anonymous in the thing's presentation to the world. This scheme of production has become the model for the vast majority of industries since the 19th century, and not just blue collar jobs either. People are largely alienated from the things they make, and the sense of frustration and dissatisfaction that so many people feel while working is exactly as Marx predicted it would be as alienated labor became the norm.

Art provides an oasis from the drabness of this mode of production. But moreover, the art object, far from being a leftover for the art idea or an expensive bauble, is a tangible symbol that another way is possible, made so by the skill, invention, care, time, freedom, and essential humanity imbued in it by its maker. There is much talk in contemporary criticism about art corresponding very closely to its own era, its own zeitgeist. But to me, this seems like a secondary consideration - the most asinine moments on MTV and sitcoms and reality TV talk to the zeitgeist at least as well if not better than artists ever could. But none of these things can approach the profundity of homo faber at work, making marvelous, skillful things for no other reason than because he or she can.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fakin' Bacon

Its really hard not to take potshots at the world's richest artist - I genuinely try not to do it too often because it will almost always smack of sour grapes. And to be fair, I find certain works by Damien Hirst visually interesting, especially the butterflies, but also some of the dots and spin art.

He must be feeling very confident in his position, though, because last week he opened a show of decidedly undergrad-looking paintings in the style of Francis Bacon (himself pretty undergrad-ish), and said this to reporters:

"That's why I stopped [painting] in the beginning when I was 16, because Bacon had sort of covered it all and basically I was making bad Bacons. But then through everything I've been through I've sort of come out the other side."

It's nice to see an artist return to his roots.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Girl Power!

Yesterday Zenyatta tied Personal Ensign's record of 13 wins and no losses by swinging 5-wide into the lane and taking the Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita with ease.

There was building excitement that Zenyatta would face racing's other notable hottie, Rachel Alexandra, but it's not going to happen this year. Rachel's owner, Jess Jackson, decided that super-girl should get a well-deserved rest after her superlative 2009 campaign. Jackson said that his filly would return in 2010 for her 4-year-old season.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Belmont Results, 10/10/09

Cashed a few tickets today, but still came out in the red. The card was very unkind to favorites, especially mine.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paulie's Picks, Belmont, 10/10/09

I can think of no better way of spending a sunny autumn afternoon than blowing all my whole wad at the track. Here are Paulie's Picks for tomorrow's card at Belmont Park:

1st race:
5 - Stroll for Acure
4 - Bold Vindication
8 - Hint

2nd race:
3- Fayoum
6 - City Wolf
4 - The Brush

3rd race:
2 - Only a Vision
4 - Crazy Thing
3 - Ms. Wonder Woman

4th Race, The Jamaica Handicap, G1:
6 - Take the Points
2 - Courageous Cat
3 - Grassy

5th race:
10 - Senegal
9 - Johannesbull
1 - Western Connection

6th race:
10 - Mr. Bourbon Street
8 - U.S. Cavalry
1 - Raceland

7th race:
7 - On Joline
5 - D' Wildcard
4 - Dos Hombres

8th race, The Frizette, G1:
3 - Nonna Mia
4 - Awesome Maria
2 - Devil May Care

9th race, The Champagne, G1:
3 - Aspire
1 - Super Saver
5 - Dublin

10th race:
9 - Quiet On the Tee
6 - Cops Fever
5 - Livin Large

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No Hassle at the Castle Trivia Time

Can you name the eleven horses to have won the Triple Crown? Here they are in reverse order:

Affirmed, 1978

Seattle Slew, 1977

Secretariat, 1973

Citation, 1948

Assault, 1946

Count Fleet, 1943

Whirlaway, 1941

War Admiral, 1937

Omaha, 1935

Gallant Fox, 1930

Sir Barton, 1919

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont Park, 10/3/09

Up until today it seemed perfectly inevitable that super-filly Rachel Alexandra was going to win the 2009 Horse of the Year award, but suddenly there's a new contender on the block. By holding off a hard-charging Quality Road in the stretch, Summer Bird became the first horse to take down the Belmont Stakes, The Travers Stakes, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year since the legendary Easy Goer did it in 1989. Only ten three-year-olds have accomplished this particular feat, one less than the eleven who have won the Triple Crown, and the list includes storied horses like Man o' War and Sword Dancer.

Summer Bird was listed in the morning line for the 2009 Kentucky Derby at 50-1, the same odds as his half-brother Mine That Bird. It should come as no surprise that the sons of Birdstone are over-achievers; their dad halted Smarty Jones' Triple Crown Bid in the 2004 Belmont Stakes at 36-1.