Friday, August 31, 2012

The 2012 Woodward Stakes

Tomorrow's Woodward Stakes is a nice chance for me to redeem myself after getting so soundly beaten in the Travers last week. In spite of this loss of cash and pride, I still get a kick out of that dead heat finish, though - it's just not something you see every day.

On paper, the Woodward is all about Mucho Macho Man, the morning line favorite in a small field. But I must say I'm intrigued by the rail horse, Rule, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by the red hot Ramon Dominguez. There are certainly a lot of question marks here, but you wouldn't be getting 12-1 in the morning line if there weren't.

Rule threw in a real stinker in the Whitney a little less than three weeks ago (shown above) and this is clearly why you're getting such generous odds. That and the fact that he's coming into this race, another Grade 1 affair, on such a short rest. But Todd Pletcher's a hall of fame trainer who's won a whopping 28% of his races this year and Dominguez is not far behind at at 23% - neither of these guys would be involved if they didn't think the horse was ready. Based on this, I'm prepared to accept the idea that the dismal Whitney was just one of those things, and Rule is feeling better now.

Rule's a stalker. Trickmeister, in the four slot, is pure speed and Mucho Macho Man tends to do his best work near the front. If the latter gets locked in a speed duel with Trickmeister, Rule could sneak in with a big upset, providing he doesn't get pinned down on the rail and can get up a little quicker than the late-running To Honor and Serve.

So how about this for tomorrow's G1 Woodward Stakes:

1 - Rule
3 - Mucho Macho Man
6 - To Honor and Serve

It could happen - you never know! Tune in Tomorrow night for results and video!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Alpha and Golden Ticket: DEAD HEAT!

Paulie's Picks: The 2012 Travers

Where did the summer go? It's already Travers Day at Saratoga! I didn't get to make my annual pilgrimage this year, but I'll be playing the home-version today - there's an all-stakes 50-cent Pick Four that's calling my name.

In the Travers, I'm taking the third choice in the morning line: Neck 'n Neck. Alpha, the favorite, beat him last month in the Jim Dandy (shown above), but there are asterisks. The race was run through slow fractions in the slop, and quite often a horse who gets an early lead in a sloppy race takes it wire wire (as Alpha did). Alpha's not normally a loose on the lead type, and I think that Neck 'n Neck should be positioned a lot closer to the front today, and without a lot of pace pressure. N 'n N was also taken 3-wide into the turns on Jim Dandy day - if Goncalves can get him a little closer to the rail in the early going, which shouldn't be a huge problem from the 8-slot since there's no real speed to his left, then he won't have to lose so much ground.

So here are Paulie's Picks for the four graded stakes on today's card. Plus a little note to the Spa: Until next summer, mon amour!

9th race, The Ballston Spa, G2:
2 - Zagora
4 - Hungry Island
1 - Heavenly Landing

10th race, The Test, G1:
8 - Contested
2 - Aubby K
6 - Jazzy Idea

11th race, The King's Bishop, G1:
9 - Trinniberg
10 - Doctor Chit
3 - Currency Swap

12th race: The Travers, G1:
8 - Neck 'n Neck
10 - Nonios
6 - Alpha

Tune in later for results and video.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dennis Jumps Into the Fray

And Nietzsche himself comments.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mark Responds

The thinker, artist, gadfly, and bon vivant Mark Stone wrote an excellent comment under my response to his recent essay on Nostalgia. The comment was so good in fact, that I thought it warranted a standalone post - I especially like the part about reformatting the past as opposed to genuinely engaging with it:

Paolo, comè vai?! I'm very happy you enjoyed the piece. 

I will clarify that the avant-garde argument is really no longer interesting as you point out. I happen to think it's a red herring to the larger discussion in the piece, which is directed at our cultural situation specifically, our current relationship to retro-culture and the way that we use history. You're absolutely right in saying that we don't engage the past in a direct way, and that was a point I wished to make. We do not question the past as much as reformat it. Is there interesting and beautiful art being made by Postmodernists everywhere? Absolutely! But it is being done at a cost. We have not progressed, we have not challenged, nor have we found DIFFERENT answers to the open ended questions left by our predecessors.

There is a point in every era where even the most prescient minds cannot see beyond. It is up to those that come after to explore this failure of vision, find a new answer. Today, even with all our advanced technology we spend a great deal of the time using it to re-present the things we already know. I mean how many Batman or Spiderman reboots do we actually need? We don’t seem very interested in actually solving problems or questioning the MEANING of the past. We are quite content to appropriate, collage and refurbish. My contention is that we, meaning painters in this instance, are not asking interesting questions about our past, nor are we formulating visionary strategies for the future. 

When Picasso painted Demoiselles very few people saw it. Those that did could not abide it. Picasso turned it to the wall for many years. He had taken a line of Western Painting, an arcadia of women, and pushed it through what was called “Primitivism” and Cezanne’s breaking and leveling of form and space. That kind of historical questioning mixed with his deliciously bent personality created a masterpiece, one that wasn’t challenged for the rest of the Century. This is the kind of critical visual thinking about our past, present and future that we’re not engaging in today. 

Quality, though, is a thornier issue and I happen to believe that’s formed after the fact. The problem as I see it is in the thoroughness of our thought and vision. To put it bluntly if those thoughts and visions are economical and generous then we will find quality in the work, otherwise even the most fabulously built object is just purposeless decoration. And I think that’s your attitude as well. 

Apologies for my absence – will see you very soon!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

History, Nostalgia, and Other Subjects

This is a piece I've been meaning to write for about a month-and-a-half, but life got in the way, as they say. It's a response to my friend Mark Stone's article over at the excellent Henrimag about nostalgia in painting, (My friend Dennis Bellone already wrote a nice response to the same piece - Dennis used to refer to himself as d. richmond, but recently unmasked himself on his blog, Immaterial-Culture).

Mark's complaint is that painting has reached an old-wine-in-new-bottles stage, and even the bottles are starting to look a little rough. Old-timey avant garde strategies and gestures have become period styles to be replicated with vestigial post-modern theoretics as a kind of cover story ("it's not retro; it's a critique of the retro impulse"). Even though he's right in essence, I think the thing that needs to be dropped entirely is not the engagement with history, but the aspiration to avant-gardism.

I know people having been writing about the death of the avant-garde for more than fifty years, but I mean it this time - it's exhausted, and this is not a tragedy; the vast majority of the world's great masterpieces have been made outside of this model. The avant-garde had a good run - more than a century - and was certainly responsible for some high-water marks, but that's over now. And it's OK, because there are lots of different ways to skin this particular cat.

And what are the earmarks of the historical avant-garde, consistent and uninterrupted as modernism crashed into post-modernism? Critique and novelty are the main identifiers. In the case of modernism, criticality and originality were immanent and aesthetic in character. In the case of post-modernism the critique was cultural, pointed outward as opposed to self-referential, and commenting on (and often attacking) the larger practice of art-making and the social and political backdrop that nurtured it. The novelty tended to involve the facture - weird non-art materials or no materials at all or industrial processes and so on.

As the roundly reviled Hilton Kramer noted, avant garde art was art that initially met with resistance. There is now a critical, curatorial, and commercial apparatus that demands avant gardism. There is no resistance; quite the contrary - there is only supply and demand.

So now that the avant garde is genuinely dead, what do we replace it with? Or more specifically, how do we replace its motives, so familiar and reflexive, taught at all the big schools and showed at the big institutions?

I think a meaningful engagement with history is an excellent starting point - looking at art that was made in the long period before art started to really suck. This kind of dialog is certainly not a new concept: Titian was not invisible in Velazquez, and Leonardo was not invisible in Rembrandt. Manet was completely obsessed with Velazquez, and the Abstract Expressionists were equally enamored with Picasso. Degas worshipped Ingres, Picasso and Matisse worshipped Cezanne! Was this a nostalgic impulse? Of course it wasn't - it wouldn't even occur to you to become a painter if there weren't previous painters that thrilled you! And your initial impulses would naturally be to emulate or even best the ones you loved best.

I think that Mark's real complaint (correct me if I'm wrong, chum) is that there is not in fact a meaningful engagement, like the one typified by Manet's relationship to Velazquez or Picasso's relationship to Cezanne. It's just a stylistic mish-mash, like late 19th century architecture, adding up to nothing much. There's a large body of theory endorsing and defending the mash-up as a legitimate response to the whole 21st century conundrum of art making. But much of the art and the theory was born enervated and emaciated and will be forgotten sooner than many people think.

A key feature of art after the avant garde will be dropping the convulsive reaction against the concept of quality (I can already hear the accusations of hegemony as I type this). But as Greenberg pointed out many years ago, the recognition of quality never left the conversation at parties, openings, and bars ("this show was great, that show was awful, and the other one was...") but it became frowned upon in print; the official, historical record. As a criteria, it was replaced with the concept of cultural relevance. But sitcoms, music videos, and reality TV are more relevant to and reflective of the culture than art can ever hope to be. And who cares? Is this what art really wants to aspire to? Shouldn't art offer a compelling alternative to these things?

A reverential look at the past is not an abdication of the responsibility to make an art suitable for our own era. For the best artists, it's a place to begin. Great artists will use it to create something that looks fresh, and the weak artists (always the majority) will use it to create something that looks nostalgic and retro.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Saratoga Stakes Recap

After I put up a pic of my Easy Goer painting, my friend Rich Garrison (to whom the painting is dedicated) immediately asked me why there hasn't been a Saratoga post yet. I know, I know - I've been remiss, so here's a recap of some of the more notable contests at the 2012 Spa meet thus far:

On opening day in the G3 Schuylerville for two-year-old fillies, So Many Ways looked quite professional. She won with a methodical stalking trip, three-wide into the lane, and showed none of the green-ness and overeager speedball tactics that one often sees in young horses running in sprints. Well done, young lady!

On July 21, Questing easily took the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks, well clear even while drifting out in deep stretch. In Lingerie disappointed as the favorite (the preceding is one those fabulous sentences you get to type while writing about the races).

On July 22, Bern Identity won the G2 Sanford Stakes, another graded sprint for two-year-olds. The heavy favorite definitely benefited from a blistering speed duel on the front end.

Saratoga is one of the only places you can see a G2 race on a Wednesday (love that!) and Centre Court weaved through a wild stretch run in the Lake George Stakes on July 25. Those blanket finishes on the turf are always a thrill (except when your horse gets nosed out, of course).

Two graded stakes went off on Saturday, July 28: The G1 Diana for fillies and mares three and up, and the G2 Jim Dandy. In the former, Winter Memories came off the turn like a steam engine. The turf track was listed as good, but judging from the condition of the main track, I think it was yielding. Either way, it seemed like a forgone conclusion, Winter Memories was much the best.

Alpha, who hasn't been raced since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, led the field through soft fractions in the mud to win the Jim Dandy wire-to-wire. Teeth of the Dog and Neck 'N Neck made weak bids, but all in all, it was a pretty dull race.

In the G2 Honorable Miss on August 3, It's Me Mom, Winning Image, and Roman Treasure led the field through a half-mile in 43 seconds-and-change. Needless to say, they all pooped out and CC's Pal was the beneficiary, with Island Bound hot on her heels.

Yesterday featured two graded affairs, the G1 Prioress and one of the big races of the Saratoga meeting, the G1 Whitney.

In The Prioress, Emma's Encore reeled in Judy the Beauty and the heavily favored front runner Agave Kiss. It was an especially nice-looking close; one more in keeping with a turf race than dirt, and with just a little note of the celestial Zenyatta.

In the Whitney (shown at the top of this post) Fort Larned made a strong move in the stretch, but also had a little racing luck on his side as favorite Ron The Greek was forced 7-wide into the lane - the latter gave chase, but just had too much work to do.

Wow, so much racing! Tune in to no Hassle at the Castle for Travers coverage, and recaps when I remember to post them (thanks again for the gentle nudge, Rich!)

Friday, August 3, 2012

How Is It?

Click here for more.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012