Dave Hickey, an art critic whose polarizing writings have been worshiped, has died. Daniel Oppenheimer, who this year published a biography of Hickey titled Far from being respectable: Dave Hickey and his art, reported in Texas monthly that Hickey died at age 82 last month.
Although Hickey has written cultural reviews for decades, it wasn’t until the 1990s that he built up a large fan base. Her review mixes high and low, often putting well-known works of art alongside reflections on basketball and fast food, and often refuses to respond to the sensibilities of the art world’s intelligentsia to which she may have once been intended. Engaged, incisive, and at times against the grain, Hickey wrote in a way quite unlike any of his generation – or any that followed. Critic Peter Schjeldahl once called him “the philosopher king of American art criticism.”
Hickey wrote two critical books which achieved great fame: Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy (1997) and The invisible dragon: four essays on beauty (1993), a large body of reflections on Hickey’s various aesthetic interests and a defense of beauty in contemporary art, respectively. Neither were widely read upon release, however. Earlier this year, in a Art in America Reviewing Oppenheimer’s biography, critic Travis Diehl recalled that he recovered his tattered copy of The invisible dragon from an artist’s recycling bin.
Still, a group of loyal followers had leaned into Hickey’s handwriting for years. In 1995, in Art Forum, Premonitarily labeled Schjeldahl The invisible dragon “the greatest little book of our time.”
The invisible dragon illustrates Hickey’s sensitivity. It shows that beauty still mattered in a time when it was considered anathema to relevant artistic creation, and it does so elegantly and seemingly effortlessly. In one essay, he compares Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexually explicit photography of queer subcultures to Caravaggio’s religious paintings. Using language beholden to post-war era theory of art, he reflects on elegant images of Mapplethorpe that had been the subject of a culture war in the early 1990s, writing that they “seemed so obviously to come from another place, near the piers, and to have brought with them, into the world of ice-white walls, the aura of knowing smiles, bad habits, foul language and smoky, crowded rooms with mud brick walls, easel bars, and handwritten signs on the wall. They may be legitimate, but like my first cousins, Tim and Duane, they are far from respectable, Even now. ”Such a statement was accompanied by an honest disclosure: he had first encountered these works in the penthouse of a coke merchant.
Evidence that the art world was loath to accept Hickey’s take on beauty can be glimpsed in a response from Amelia Jones, a feminist art historian. She once wrote that Hickey’s writings served to appeal to “a particular group of critics (almost all white males) as having access to the truth.” The book continues to divide, even today.
Imaginary guitar, on the other hand, has a more assertive place in the canon of art criticism. Between meditations on the experimental films of Stan Brakhage, the technique of the basketball player Julius Erving and the drippings of Jackson Pollock, Imaginary guitar synthesizes Hickey’s personal life with his artistic influences. Above all, it does so in a way that owes less to accepted forms of criticism than to the kind of relaxed, albeit sophisticated, discourse one might have over a drink.
Praising the book as “often perfect,” wrote Greil Marcus in Art Forum, “His writing is like a big speech – especially a big graduate student speech, where the smallest details of speech or dress can take on impossible significance only to be cut off at the knees by a taunt and then picked up again. by “But what I really mean is-. ‘”
While Hickey is often considered a leading art critic, he had an unusual, and at times ambivalent, relationship with the art world. In his own writings, he portrays himself as a stranger baffled by the contradictory social mores of the art world and the obsession with money.
On assignment to cover the openings of Frieze London and Art Basel Miami Beach for Vanity Fair in 2008 he wrote: “Think of the art world like a beach and money like surfing. The waves break but they always come back, leaving some masterpieces, taking with them a beach. When a really gnarly monster arrives, the best we can hope for is that it leaves behind a beach and some treasures in the sand, along with the wreckage and bodies, as the wave will suck. And when it does, as it is now, the whales will hold or drop. If they hold, art will remain a commodity of stable value and illiquid. If the whales cast cheap, the art world will suffer its first catastrophic value readjustment in 40 years. It won’t be pretty, but it will be exciting to watch.
In 2012, Hickey announced that he was retiring from the art world altogether. “I intend to disappear like Marcel Duchamp, which is not quite to disappear,” he told the Observer. “I’m about to leave … oops, I haven’t left yet but keep looking.”
David Hickey was born in 1938 in Fort Worth, Texas, and went on to live “everywhere”, as he recalled in a 2014 Los Angeles Times profile. His father was a musician and his mother a painter and teacher. They moved to Los Angeles, although Hickey didn’t speak often of his childhood, which was marred by many unfortunate memories, including the suicide death of his father when Hickey was 11.
Briefly, Hickey has taken a turn in the art market. In 1967, he opened the pop-up A Clean gallery, Well Lighted Place – its name refers to a short story by Ernest Hemingway – in Austin, Texas. Although it only operated for a few years, the gallery has made a name for itself for showing offbeat contemporary art. Then, in 1971, when he moved to New York, Hickey ran the Reese Paley Gallery. He would have left when his boss said he would show off Yoko Ono’s art.
Also in the 1970s, Hickey was editor-in-chief of Art in America (who is currently ARTnewssister publication of). The writings of this time predict the style for which Hickey would later become known. In an essay on Land art published in Art in America in 1971, he mentions artist Dennis Oppenheim in the same breath as country music singer Terry Allen. Hickey’s writings also appeared in ARTnews, the Voice of the village, Rolling stone, and other publications.
During the 90s, Hickey accepted a professorship in the art department at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, where his character angered his colleagues, despite his fame in New York. He became the first curator of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts and gained a reputation in the city. In 2010, when Hickey and his second wife, art historian Libby Lumpkin, left Las Vegas for good, the Las Vegas Sun devoted a profile entirely to the couple, who, according to the newspaper, “will go down in Las Vegas history”.
During this time, Hickey’s fame grew on the international art circuit. In 2001, he won a MacArthur “genius” scholarship, the most esteemed of all art awards in the United States. In 2004 he organized the SITE Santa Fe biennial.
In his later years, Hickey sought to undo some of the perceptions about himself and his work that he considered to be wrong. One was the idea that he only wrote about men. To remedy this hypothesis, he published 25 women: essays on their art (2015). “Most of my favorite people are women,” he wrote in the introduction to this book. Despite the book’s feminist foundation, some critics have detected puffs of veiled sexism. Chloe Wyma, writing in the New York Times, said the book “makes him look less like the enfant terrible of the art world than his dirty old uncle.”
All of Hickey’s writing is characterized by a direct engagement with the art itself. Stripped of the theatricality of the art world around it, good art, he seemed to suggest, makes itself known by being just that: good art. “If the work isn’t visible, it doesn’t matter,” he told critic Saul Ostrow in a 1995 article. Bomb maintenance. “It’s not interesting art to me.”