Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 66

Barnett Newman, Onement III, 1949. Oil on canvas, 72" x 34."

My good friend Michael Zahn pointed out that the Ab Ex NY show should be a permanent installation at MoMA. I couldn't agree more - New York City's most important modern art museum should permanently display New York City's most important art.

This work is, to me, looking better and better with the passage of time. And so much of the work that cropped up in opposition to it is looking decidedly weaker as it is further and further removed from it's particular moment of historical relevance.

As I walked through the show with George Hofmann, my painting professor from Hunter, he said more than once: "I'm so happy." I was, too.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 65

Ad Reinhardt, "Abstract Painting," 1963. Oil on canvas, 60" x 60."

"In painting, for me no fooling-the-eye, no window-hole-in-the-wall, no illusions, no representations, no associations, no distortions, no paint-caricaturings, no cream pictures or drippings, no delirium trimmings, no sadism or slashings, no therapy, no kicking-the-effigy, no clowning, no acrobatics, no heroics, no self-pity, no guilt, no anguish, no supernaturalism or subhumanism, no divine inspiration or daily perspiration, no personality-picturesqueness, no romantic bait, no gallery gimmicks, no neo-religious or neo-architectural hocus-pocus, no poetry or drama or theater, no entertainment business, no vested interests, no Sunday hobby, no drug-store museums, no free-for-all history, no art history in America of ashcan-regional-WPA-Pepsi-Cola styles, no professionalism, no equity, no cultural enterprises, no bargain-art commodity, no juries, no contests, no masterpieces, no prizes, no mannerisms or techniques, no communication or information, no magic tools, no bag of tricks-of-the-trade, no structure, no paint qualities, no impasto, no plasticity, no relationships, no experiments, no rules, no coercion, no anarchy, no anti-intellectualism, no irresponsibility, no innocence, no irrationalism, no low level of consciousness, no nature-mending, no reality-reducing, no life-mirroring, no abstracting from anything, no nonsense, no involvements, no confusing painting with everything that is not painting."

-From "Abstract Art Refuses," Ad Reinhardt, 1952

Friday, December 3, 2010


Barring legislative intervention, NYC Off Track Betting, the only bookie in history to consistently lose money, will close its doors forever after today's races. O, the humanity!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 64

Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948. Oil and enamel on canvas, 106" x 210."

As much as I like this painting, I've often felt that Pollock made a mistake leaving such large spaces at the top - they can feel like they're sagging instead of rising. If I were king, I'd turn a lot of Pollocks upside down, like this:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 63

Mark Rothko, "No. 37/No. 19 (Slate Blue and Brown on Plum)," 1958. Oil on canvas, 95" x 90."

I recently went back up to the Ab Ex NY show at MoMA, this time with two groups of young students from Parsons.

This Rothko was one of the highlights of the show for me; I don't recall having seen it before. The scale relationships of the parts to the whole are not typical of Rothko (the clouds seem small-ish) and those wide margins on the top, left, and right, give the picture an unusual level of openness and expansiveness. It was big, misty and spooky, and I loved it.

And my students loved it - not just this picture, but the show as a whole. Generally, when I take groups of freshmen to a museum, I expect a certain amount of texting, a certain amount of eye-rolling, a little bit of insouciance and indifference. But these kids were looking, and looking hard; asking me questions, reading the supporting material and so on. I was frankly a little taken aback.

There are all kinds of conclusions I could draw from this, all kinds of theories I could posit. Maybe they were caught off-guard by the emotional frankness of the work after having been numbed by the relentless ersatz emotion of television, especially reality tv (which they watch a lot of). Maybe they were struck by the rough and raw surfaces and the big scale, since most of the myriad of images they apprehend each day are mediated by the screen in terms of size, surface and duration. Maybe they were surprised that there was no ironic distance whatsoever - a condition that not only permeates much art since post-modernism, but is also the natural emotional defense system of the average teenager. Who knows, who knows?

I loved it that they loved it, and even though I might be reading way too much into it, I must say that it gives me a sunny sense of optimism.

And here's an open request to Parsons Foundation sections FF and G: please feel free to comment on this post, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

George Hofmann on Fractured Space

Michael Brennan, studio view with two "Razor Paintings" from the "Five Uses of a Knife" series, 2010. Both oil on canvas, 24" x 18."

George Hofmann is a fine painter whom I was lucky enough to study with as a grad student at Hunter College. His last contribution to No Hassle at the Castle was a thoughtful reflection on the work of Ken Noland shortly after that painter's death. For quite some time George has, in conversations with myself and others, been formulating a description of the new space he perceives in painting - he refers to it as "fractured space," and it relates closely to the digitization of popular media. This is the first time he has written down his thoughts on the subject:

A few years ago, the painters Tom Barron, Arthur Yanoff and I began to think about what has changed, spatially, in painting, wondering if this is a result of a change in seeing itself over the last thirty years.

In the shift to visual information in society, millions are looking - a lot - at constantly changing images on their TVs, computers and hand-held devices. The world is awash in visual information; unedited and torrential, pixellated, flickering, backlit, and instantaneous. This hasn’t necessarily resulted in greater pictorial literacy, but it probably has affected the way we look at art, and the making of art. In painting it probably accelerated what was already happening: more and more fractured, shifting, unexpected and surprising pictorial space.

Frontality persisted in painting – in Pop, Minimalism, Color Field, even in Conceptual Art - the dominance of the picture plane has ruled since Manet, since Cubism, common to all schools. Color difference and scale alone made for spatiality, so it was mostly through splitting that space could be alluded to; fracturing led to differentiation itself, the breaking-up of space in a shallow field became subject.

Eventually, the combination of frontality and fracture, the mix of virtual and real, the juxtapositions of subjects, and the speed that characterize media began to underlie, more and more, the feeling of almost all paintings. The reverse, of course, is also true: collage and fracturing are now everywhere in media; Cubism probably made Windows possible.

Yanoff notes that newer abstract painting presents a subtle difference from the classical abstraction of previous generations; that there was a sense of wholeness in the relationships in paintings which is no longer part of our experience. The elements in our paintings don’t “lock” now - there is a somewhat disjointed distribution of pictorial elements, a “piling on of history, experience and emotion set the stage for fractured space," as Yanoff puts it.

Barron wonders if "fractured space” now is more about our way of responding to what we see, or if it refers to the fractured nature of reality. “Probably, it is both," reasons Barron, “Our ‘fractured space’ is inextricably connected with time – in this case, ‘fractured’ time – the rhythm of our dynamic reality: the steady, linear continuum of time and space as we perceived it and on which we once comfortably depended has given way to the reality of infinite simultaneous happenings almost instantly perceived everywhere. We ‘multi-task’, jumping back and forth between reality and virtual (other) reality, we are plugged in to infinite impulses” – as people, and, it is important to remember - as painters.

Now, it seems, the confrontational/then fractured space we’ve known in painting is giving way to paintings that hint at depth, subtly suggesting it, opening pictures and giving us surfaces that invite us in: in Barron’s words, "we have kept open the cracks, the spaces, the passageways between realities. We don’t cover up or smooth over the seams – we keep the relationships between spaces and forms, the visible and invisible open-ended, malleable, porous and breathing – like life."

Perhaps we are just tired of in-your-face - we want to enter pictures, but it seems more likely that this is a natural change; something that has grown, and then comes to an end, and a new beginning. It may be stating the obvious, but for a big change, not much is being said about it, but that also suggests that it is a natural development. For those who are thinking about it, it is exhilarating, and it is exciting to think of all the unforeseen possibilities open to us, in art.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Love Her Still!

O Sadness! Regret! Anger! O thank heavens I had Blame covered in the Exacta, Trifecta, and Superfecta pools!

I don't care if she lost one, they should still give her Horse of the Year for her stellar six-year-old campaign - although I will have to admit that Blame strengthened his own case for HOTY honors with this victory; he's had a hell of a year, too. That said, it would be criminal if she lost yet another borderline call - she may well become the Susan Lucci of the Eclipse Awards!

I would be remiss if I didn't cover the dust-up between jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano after the Breeder's Cup Marathon on Friday. Coming off of the final turn, Castellano, riding Prince Will I Am, checked Romp so hard that jockey Martin Garcia nearly fell off the horse. Romp in turn bumped A.U. Miner with Borel aboard, forcing him to steady. After the race, the generally jovial Borel attacked Castellano, throwing punches and yelling "I'm going to kill you!" repeatedly; it apparently took six people to hold him back. Good heavens! The Churchill Downs stewards are expected to come to a decision today regarding penalties and fines for the two jockeys.

Also, apologies for steering people to the wrong network on Friday - in my race analysis, I said that the BC Classic was going to be on NBC when in fact it was shown on ESPN - I hope no one missed the race on my account.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Breeder's Cup Classic, Churchill Downs, 11/6/10

The spectacular Zenyatta, shown above taking down the 2009 Breeder's Cup Classic, is looking to end her stellar career with a perfect record of 20-0 by taking on the boys once again in the 2010 BC Classic. Many are still cranky that she was passed over for 2009 Horse of the Year honors in favor of Rachel Alexandra, particularly in light of Rachel's short and sketchy 4-year-old campaign. If the 6-year-old Zenyatta wins tomorrow, she will not only wrap up HOTY honors for 2010, but will certainly enter the pantheon of most memorable racehorses of all time like Secretariat, Man O'War, Seabiscuit, and... ok, I'll stop, you get it. Hooray for Zenyatta!

The cardinal rule in this game is to bet with your head and not your heart, and I must say that the queen has her work cut out for her tomorrow. Haynesfield, Quality Road, Lookin' at Lucky, and Blame all have a lean and hungry look. I think Blame is Zenyatta and jockey Mike Smith's chief worry, mainly because of running styles.

Here's how I see this race stacking up:

Quality Road and Haynesfield are speedballs and should go straight out to the front along with longshots First Dude and Etched. The latter two will probably spit out the bit at the top of the stretch. The former two will both dig down deep - they have high class speed, but will surely show signs of wear in deep stretch.

This scenario has been Zenyatta's bread-and-butter for 19 straight wins, but Blame and Lookin' at Lucky earn a living the same way. Those three will be targeting the leaders in the last hundred yards for what should be a thrilling finish. Battles like this come down to class and consistency, and Blame outshines Lookin' at Lucky in this regard, plus Blame is one year older and stronger than the three-year-old Lookin' at Lucky - I see Blame and Zenyatta neck and neck in the closing strides.

Jockey Mike Smith recently said that he's always felt Zenyatta has another gear that no one has seen yet; that once she gains the leads she downshifts and maintains just enough speed to win. This has led many to believe that some of her victories were close, when in reality it was never in doubt. Maybe tomorrow we'll see her turn the amp up to eleven!

Here's Paulie's 2010 BC Classic trifecta pick:

8 - Zenyatta
5 - Blame
12 - Lookin' at Lucky

If you're looking to play the superfecta, better press the "all" button - just about anybody could finish fourth here.

The race will be shown on NBC and post-time is 6:45. I haven't had a computer all week (hard drive exploded) so I might not be able to get video up until Sunday - check Youtube for the replay if you miss it; video generally starts showing up within an hour or two of the big races.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Post Number 500!

This is the 500th post here on No Hassle at the Castle! The first one went up on February 7, 2007. I've been aware that this was coming up for the last couple of weeks, and spent a lot of time thinking about how to observe such a momentous occasion. I decided to celebrate with a poem!

As most of my readers know, I'm insistent that one should write about art using the plainest language available. If I wanted, however, I could go another route - here's a blueprint for a different kind of Hassle:

I could, if I chose,
embellish my prose, with
trenchant ontologies,
Jungian, Freudian, moody psychologies,
cosmic cosmologies,
stubborn tautologies,
jargon without no relief or apologies,
things that go bump in the post-modern night,
poly-syllabic vernacular frights!
Stern deconstruction and wild semiotics,
dense hermeneutics for learned psychotics,
tools to interpret hegemony's goals,
post-meta-narrative rig-a-marole!
Derrida, Wittgenstein, Barthes, and Foucault;
I'd quote them all just to show that I know
that it ain't just a game when you hang an art show.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paintngs I Like, pt. 62

Hans Hofmann, "Memoria in Aeternum," 1962. Oil on canvas. 84" x 72."

As much as I loved the Ab Ex show at MoMA, there were relatively few real revelations - most of the very best paintings in the exhibition were the ones that are usually on display (One and Vir Heroicus Sublimus in particular). They did bring up a few hidden gems from the basement, though, with this Hofmann being my favorite by far.

As I mentioned in P.IL. #61, the Achilles heel of much gestural abstraction is the problem inherent in mixing color on the canvas; any sophmore painting teacher will tell you never to do it, because the result will be mud soup. Here the 82-year-old painter and pedagogue shows that if you know what you're doing, you can throw the rules out the window. The vast majority of this 7' canvas is covered by a mudslide. And it's a beauty!

How can this be so? The mud is flowing upwards, which makes it feel weightless. It veils what appears to be another painting behind it, just peeking out the top, which makes it appear wafer thin, again, cutting down the visual weight. And most importantly the two rectangles of pure color are made all the more vibrant because of their drab environment.

The risk involved in the figuration, of course, is that the rectangles will dangle, like Christmas-tree ornaments, in front of the picture. But Hofmann integrates the two shapes in subtle ways - the red rectangle is almost identical in value to the ground, and the tiny wisps of yellow in the murky ground color create a strong visual tie to the yellow rectangle. Wow!

Mainly, I liked the nerve of this picture. To be able to pull something off like this, at this size, is something that I sincerely hope I can do when I'm in my 80's.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paintngs I Like, pt. 61

Williem de Kooning, "Painting," 1948. Oil and enamel on canvas, 43" x 56."

I just saw the Ab Ex show at MoMa, and the next few installments of "Paintings I Like" will be dedicated that fine exhibition. As I was deciding which picture to start with, I realized that Willem de Kooning has never been the subject of P.IL.

The de Kooning/Harold Rosenberg alliance and the Pollock/Greenberg allaince were sort of like the Beatles and Stones of Ab Ex (or maybe the Beatles and the Beach Boys? Anyway, you get my point). I always came down squarely on the Pollock/Greenberg side - I have real problems with Rosenberg's quasi-mystical prose, and de Kooning's women are Paintings I Don't Like. But de Kooning did lots of other stuff besides those.

De Kooning's European-style beaux-arts training permeated all his work, even the more strictly non-objective paintings like the one shown above. Even though there are no eyes, faces, or body parts, there are voluptuous references to all of them throughout the picture - he could rarely achieve the level of abstraction that Rothko, Newman and Pollock all seemed to have such easy access to. There was a time that I would have counted this as a flaw in the picture; the fact that he couldn't give up the last vestiges of representation (as was the case with many European Modernists, most notably Picasso). But now that making the ultimate abstraction is no longer such a life-or-death proposition, it really doesn't strike me as an issue any more.

Those loopy arabesques create a kind of photo-negative of a fast moving orgy; he continually provides his famous "glimpse" of actions just passed or about to happen. And it might be the sense of swirling motion, but the picture never gets weighed down by all that black - it's as light as a feather, which, as any painter will tell you, is no mean feat. I could (and did) circulate around those curves and drips for a very long time without tiring of the picture.

De Kooning used black and white paint at this point in his career because of poverty, but it suited his gestural style exceptionally well - there was no possibility of making mud-pies, as was the case with many of the woman pictures and some of the early color abstractions. Wet-into-wet black and white paint can only make grey - no worries!

The painter would come to a splendid accord with color late in his career, but by the time he figured it out few people cared. Such are the vicissitudes of a life in art.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Five Uses of a Knife:" Michael Brennan at 210 Gallery

Michael Brennan, "Blue Practice Painting," 2010. Oil on canvas, 20" x 16."

I've heard it said that the vast majority of abstract painting is landscape in disguise, and I've always been inclined to agree with this view. Certainly, Michael Brennan's paintings have traditionally courted a landscape reading, particularly in his use of horizontal formats and long horizontal stripes, as seen in his last exhibition at 210 Gallery in Brooklyn. In his new solo exhibition, however, landscape gives way to a reference seldom seen or felt in "pure" abstraction: portraiture.

The eight paintings in the show are all in vertical orientation, around the size of a head, and are hung at eye level. All but one feature a single central "figure" derived with various strokes of a palette knife in oil paint (hence the show's title). The spectral figures never exactly coalesce into a face or head, but the reference is strong enough that it raises a raftload of tantalizing issues. You simply can't approach them as you would a more traditional abstraction even though the pictures remain non-objective in the strictest sense.

A big reason that abstract painters have resisted portraiture is because it's quite difficult not to address and evaluate a portrait psychologically. A painting whose primary thrust is shape, color, light, and space will quickly find those issues diminished by the presence of a human face - the viewer will inevitably begin to look for emotional content in the eyes, the expression, and the mode of representation, rather than in the paint. But in a kind of deft slight of hand (and knife) Brennan uses the reflexive search for a face as an excuse to roam around the varied textures of paint; sometimes dry and showing the canvas texture, sometimes wet and ribbon-like, sometimes textured like brains or broccoli. There are no eyes or ears in the pictures, but enough things that begin to look a little like them to keep you searching, and the search is a grand tour through endlessly interesting paint applications - a kind of crafty aesthetic bait-and-switch. The relatively small scale of the pictures invites you to step up and get a really good look at all the nuances in that paint.

Brennan's pictures court a paradoxically photographic look - the facture is quite evidently paint, but the impression they give is often that of black-and-white photography, and the tension between those two readings has always been one of my favorite aspects of his work. The strong pull that these pictures display toward portraiture, coupled with the highly muted monochromatic palettes, stark white framing devices, and relatively small scale, call to mind photographic portraits, specifically those associated with cinema; I'm thinking of the black-and-white stills that were traditionally released by film studios in advance of a new release prior to the days of the internet (Cindy Sherman famously found inspiration there as well). The drama and subtle humor that these photographic and cinematic references add provide another layer of interest to these pictures. Not surprisingly, Brennan is something of a cinephile.

In the end, the pictures are visual - paint on canvas. If any of these sly references overcame the paintings and became subject matter, the pictures would suffer. But the tightrope act they walk, making veiled nods to cultural referents outside of the frame adds an irresistible richness. I really liked these pictures.

The show had six "Razor Paintings" and two "Practice Paintings" (these titles were appended by the color used and with a number if there were more than one with the same palette). Five of the "Razor Paintings" fit the description above, with "White Razor Painting 1" being my favorite. The low contrast made the picture just a little more spectral and slippery than the darker incarnations. "White Razor Painting 2" broke out of the portrait mold just a little by presenting a row of marching "X" shapes across the bottom center - an unexpected device that pushed the portrait-like figure back into the space. "Graphite Practice Painting" was much more stark in its dark/light contrast and presented a figure that looked like it might be speedily escaping the frame. "Blue Practice Painting" moved away from the muted palette that specifically courted the resemblance to b/w photography. The "figure," central and resting on the inside bottom of the white frame, was much more self-consciously volumetric than in the other pictures, and created a shape that could be construed as a hand or crown or flame. The electric blue was glowing, fluid and transparent, a real grabber.

210 Gallery is located at 210 24th St. in Brooklyn and is open Friday to Sunday from 12-6 or by appointment. The show stays up until Halloween, which seems oddly appropriate for these pictures. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dennis Bellone at Henri Art Magazine

The latest installment of Henri Art Magazine's new series on artists in their studios features a painter for whom I have a great deal of admiration: Dennis Bellone.

Dennis has made some terrific contributions this blog; scroll down to the "Contributors" section on the lower right to read his essays.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Paintngs I Like, pt. 60

Caravaggio, Young Sick Bacchus, 1593. Oil on canvas, 26" x 21."

In terms of self-portraits in the guise a seriously ill faun/troll/god of wine, this picture pretty much rules the category.