The Ravishing and the Damned

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Who’s fearful of Dave Hickey? By the time I moved to Los Angeles for artwork college in 2008, Hickey was a creator people loved to abominate nonetheless seldom read. He’d established himself in Las Vegas because the cantankerous bard of the American vernacular, garnered a MacArthur Fellowship among diversified laurels, and symbolized a purple-blooded admiration for elegance, sleaze, and commerce that was anathema to the political vogue in artwork (then as now). Few novel artwork critics hang been so influential, and so roundly denounced—yet while Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried’s astronomical concepts are mechanically refuted, Hickey’s are mostly shunned. I chanced on my barely thumbed nonetheless water-damaged reproduction of his easiest-selling 1997 sequence Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy in an artist friend’s recycling bin.

However misunderstanding breeds fear, and Hickey is just not any longer an effortless resolve to ticket. His resume rambles during the peaks of boomer bohemia: born in Texas in 1940, he has bustle galleries in Austin and Unusual York, partied with Warhol and Mapplethorpe, taken LSD and tempo, written outlaw nation songs in Nashville, hasty edited for Art in The US, and reviewed records for Rolling Stone, all forward of 1980. Air Guitar is characteristically gregarious, swinging from basketball yarn Julius Erving’s layups to painter Cézanne’s image airplane. Then there is his reactionary-seeming thesis, first fashioned in his 1993 book The Invisible Dragon, that the purpose of artwork is Beauty, of which the market is the measure—and that this alternate, this free-make, in my idea certain relationship to driving works of artwork, is democracy in action. On the help of this refrain, Hickey made himself the chain-smoking, Burger King–ingesting bête noire of the educational artwork world, lecturing from Cambridge to LA the total while.

Removed from Legit: Dave Hickey and His Art by Daniel Oppenheimer, Austin, College of Texas Press, 2021; 152 pages, 25 unlit-and-white

illustrations, $24.95 hardcover.

The Austin-primarily based journalist Daniel Oppenheimer rushed out to capture his reproduction of Air Guitar after his brother immediate him it could maybe maybe well blow his thoughts. Twenty years later, he has written a biography of the war-scarred critic, Removed from Legit: Dave Hickey and His Art. Oppenheimer’s book readily admits to its subject’s defects. It’s miles customarily a valediction. Oppenheimer is chiefly a political journalist—his old book profiles six leftist figures who swung honest—and Removed from Legit remains to be from the artwork-vital substances of Hickey’s work, compelled as a replace by its subject’s bravura and kind. Framed as a twilight reappraisal of Hickey’s lifestyles and work, the book’s major process is to pull Hickey’s criticism from its pigeonhole in the artwork world of the 1990s and into wilder, thornier, more human thickets of desire. There’s a gap in the heart of Oppenheimer’s legend between 1977, when Hickey goes to his mom’s in Castle Rate to kick amphetamines and barbiturates, and 1989, when he reappears with a tenure-monitor job at the College of Las Vegas, having narrowly shunned becoming the fourth man in four generations of his family to commit suicide.

However while he praises Hickey’s writings as artwork, Oppenheimer also asks the pertinent ask: is Hickey’s criticism silent linked? That is where the book will get linked too. The creator doesn’t title the artwork world controversies of the 2010s, nonetheless it absolutely’s hard no longer to ogle ongoing conflicts over the roles of artwork and politics and institutions in Oppenheimer’s description of the 1980s culture warfare spats over Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe (whom Hickey chummily calls Robert), when honest-waft congressmen chiseled away at federal funding for the humanities. These controversies hardly ever resemble this day’s mainstream arguments over artwork. The war strains now, to borrow the book’s regularly martial diction, are drawn during the liberal institution itself, in conflicts between factions on the left. However this was precisely the bone Hickey picked. While curators defended Mapplethorpe’s enlighten, vivid photos of assholes and cocks in phrases of formal rigor and timeless inventive values, Hickey railed that Jesse Helms had it honest: Robert’s raunchy photos were a tell assault on every little thing that puritanical The US believed, and for Hickey, this was a power rate defending. The honest-wingers and bigots didn’t disaster him—“Each of these parties was performing its assigned role in the eagerness play of American cultural politics,” Oppenheimer writes—as powerful because the curators who wished to equipment Mapplethorpe’s most wrong, stout-frontal work in neutral, neutralizing appeals to free expression. Hickey’s broadsides against the “therapeutic institution,” which he claimed served up artwork love broccoli, notified aesthetic-climate chums of outlaws and outcasts that they certainly war for the person.

Dave Hickey at his Austin gallery, A Neat, Effectively-Lighted Predicament, November 1969.
Courtesy the Austin American-Statesman.

Oppenheimer’s easiest sustained vital postmortem concerns the blowup over elegance that Hickey launched with The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, printed by Art Factors Press in Los Angeles—which, remarkably, silent smolders. Hickey was so irked by the institution left’s frigid-as-marble defense of Mapplethorpe that he wrote a group of essays to the contrary, really arguing that elegance itself, just of the codes and experts of the therapeutic institution, marked locations for subcultures to self-build up, and that this was the factual democratic magic of artwork. Removed from Legit recounts the fallout. In 1996, “allies” of Hickey, including his wife, Libby Lumpkin, and most recent Los Angeles Times senior critic Christopher Knight, roundly attacked an exhibition of feminist artwork curated by artwork historian Amelia Jones. Jones struck help with a paper lacerating no longer Knight, nor Lumpkin, nonetheless Dave Hickey, casting him as a reactionary tastemaker and cocky patriarch who brandished his contain conception of elegance as fashionable truth. Oppenheimer argues that Jones’s discovering out was virtually willfully inaccurate—that, genuinely, each and each Hickey and Jones impart elegance firmly “in the secret agent of the beholder.” Indeed, as adversarial to taste-making, as each and each the critic’s biography and his writing fabricate clear, Hickey really advocated one thing love bright polytheism or poststructuralist bacchanal. However Hickey, ever the pugilist, “selected . . . to plod his finger in the eyes of the these that were mad at him, to play on stage the asshole they assumed and intensely powerful wished him to be (the better to brush off his reports).”

“Hickey never had a belief,” writes Oppenheimer, “nor even a judgment of right and inaccurate of route. He had a talent for writing, a daimonic intellect, an intuition for where particular kinds of cultural energy were coalescing, and doubtless traits to depression and self-sabotage.” In surfing, treatment, song, and artwork, Hickey sought out subcultures and cliques in stress with “the cultural economics of the mainstream.” And naturally he was regularly heinous. Hickey’s eager faith in the “democracy of the market” to generate diverse free havens internal capitalism whitewashed broad disparities in win admission to. The truth that Hickey “spoke of how powerful he loved selling, in particular, to a certain form of threat-taking businessman” betrays a quaint glance of artwork’s relationship to commerce very powerful formed by selling pop artwork in Austin in the leisurely 1960s. (It’s rate including that, in the twenty-first century, Hickey grew to change into to bashing “rich collectors” for poisoning the collegial weirdness he’d show in artwork.)

Then there is his astronomical-tent conception of American culture as delivery, raucous, unstable, and a hell of a time. (However delivery to whom, precisely? A straight white man love him, no longer lower than.) He chanced on pleasure in American paganism: adore of commerce, love of idols (politicians, pop stars, graven photos), and “cosmopolitanism,” or diversity. One chapter opens with a vignette from Hickey’s formative years, when his father introduced him alongside to a neighborhood jam session. “Magda build up in entrance of the piano,” Oppenheimer recounts. “Butch stood up his bass. Julius laid his guitar in his lap while he rolled and lit a joint. Ron took a success and then sat down at his drum build. Hickey’s father, also Dave, took out his sax and his clarinet. They all tuned and warmed up. Then they conducted.” Hickey wrote in Air Guitar that this afternoon “was the supreme, most concrete mark I had of The US as a obedient society and stays so.” It’s a tragic and susceptible observation. His father would abolish himself three years later. And the actuality of this nation would show adverse to the polyphonic ease that so impressed Hickey as a boy.

By the dwell of Removed from Legit, Oppenheimer starts regarding Hickey as Dave, the manner Hickey called the artists he’d identified by their first names. “Dave was lonely and feeling unappreciated,” he writes. “I used to be offering to write down a book about how improbable he was.” The book’s final pages declare a weekend in Santa Fe, where Hickey and Lumpkin now dwell, when the matter who has seduced the creator for see you later becomes flesh and blood, damaged down, prisoner of a failing body. This primal scene is intercut with Oppenheimer’s meditations on his contain conflicted relationship to his austere, leftist parents and the ingrained, politically justified, pathological denial of pleasure that they professed. “This was my inheritance,” writes Oppenheimer, “against which I struggled very inarticulately and mostly unconsciously. Till I read Dave.” These sketches of the creator’s contain biography feel vague and pretend-confessional—except you ticket that what he’s really confessing at some stage in the book, and by writing the book itself, is that he has chanced on a surrogate father resolve in Hickey, liberation in Hickey’s work.

Partaking with elegance makes our lives richer—if it does anything the least bit—and Oppenheimer finds Hickey bright. Whilst he concedes that Hickey’s contaminated Beauty was “flamboyantly prejudicial,” Oppenheimer finds him “so potent, in the terminate, no longer on account of his conception of elegance was wonderful nonetheless on account of his efficiency while articulating it was so bright.” Oppenheimer attempts to jam with Hickey, offering his contain book’s four chapters as a countermelody to the four essays in Invisible Dragon. He doesn’t hang Hickey’s feel for the notes, nonetheless there are moments when the complete thing sings. “When Dave was in his glory, I’ve been immediate, his brilliance poured out of him in a glittering journey of connections, allusions, humor, sophistication, and vulgarity,” writes Oppenheimer. Even diminished, because the three leer MSNBC, Hickey delivers a haunting vision of the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas, which he and Lumpkin took place to peep. “The subject of the dwell efficiency regarded love elegant coals,” he immediate Oppenheimer. “Glow, glow, glow. It was all people’s cell phone. Isn’t that unhappy?”

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