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.