Wanna bet?

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Racehorses, ca. 1895-1899. Pastel on tracing paper, with strip added at bottom, laid down on cardboard. 21 1/4 x 24 3/4 in. (55. 8 x 64.8 cm). Purchased 1950. © National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Racehorses, ca. 1895-1899.
© National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Time for sipping mint juleps. Ladies, break out that high-and-mighty hat. Gentlemen, pony up the bucks. The Kentucky Derby has pulled to within a length.

Here, we feel all the elegance of the event, tensing with the nervous energy of the contenders. Taste the transient moodiness. Even the blades of grass stand on tiptoe.

The horse in golden silks steps out of frame, gives you the sense you are right there, anticipating more action. The wild one in the background throws his head, his orange-silked jockey straining to steady. Like a chorus line, the horses’ legs prance up the field of the canvas, the real star of this show.  Degas places the horses’ bodies in a diagonal construction from the lower left of the canvas to the upper right, building a mounting tension.

From the usual chestnut field, I spot a gray. My pic for the 2012 Derby, Hansen (technically known as a gray, but white to me.) One of only 8% of thoroughbreds with this coloration who trace their lineage back to one horse, their thin gray line saved from extinction by The Tetrarch.

A white horse – think Apocalypse, Unicorns, knight-in-shining armor, hi-ho-Silver-and-away. The extraordinary, the mystical.  A hooved Justice, snorting vengeance.  Against the gates of a rigid, rusted status quo, the pale and rider pull away down the stretch. And we believe, against all odds, anything is possible.

Will Hansen take the roses, like Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Gato del Sol (1982), Determine (1954) and his son Decidedly (1962)?  I’ll take that bet.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. . .

Maurizio Cattelan, All, Guggenheim Museum, New York

Maurizio Cattelan, All, Guggenheim Museum, New York

Remember, the whirlwind that swept Dorothy to Oz?  Well, you will experience that same feeling as you enter the rotunda of the Guggenheim and behold the 128 swirling pieces of the  Maurizio Cattelan exhibit hanging from the ceiling.  He’s very fond of taxidermy so beware the dead horse hanging almost eye level as you buy your tickets.  How else could you explain your hoof-to-the-eye shiner to the gang at happy hour?

The SigO found the dead horse repulsive and thus discounted the rest of the installation.  I found it interesting enough to ask, “Why is there a slouchy dead horse hanging in the Guggenheim?”  Then it occurred to me; this horse is “dead in the saddle.”  A grinning artist illustrates the horror of such an experience “in the flesh” so to speak. I braced myself for the onslaught of political satire/commentary along the lines of “politicians are corrupt and the political system is irrelevant to the poor” and the social message “the plight of the underclass sucks, we need to do something about it.”  I was pleasantly surprised because  Cattelan says it in such unexpected ways, some of which demand a chuckle, and I’m a great fan of being shocked and scandalized at art museums. Wait,  that never happens. . .
As you walk up the spiraling ramp that defines the exhibition space, you can view the collection of  Cattelan pieces from every angle and many stories.  Some have called this a “chandelier” or a “gallows” (many pieces are hung by ropes). Its devious fun just to imagine the guys who installed it struggling to get the dinosaur skeleton (in the stance of a dog begging to play or a cat maybe??) in just the right place, without sending the kiddie Hitler statue crashing to the ground.