A lot of my friends have been emailing me about this article in the Guardian about the wonderful Dave Hickey deciding to leave the world of art. Doyen of American critics turns his back on the 'nasty, stupid' world of modern art.
I have nothing but love and respect for Dave Hickey and I applaud him for refusing to be part of the machine for making value in place of intellectual discourse. His BEAU MONDE exhibition at SITE Santa Fe was exquisite. His understanding of beauty as transgression was and is a theoretical construction that has been a tremendous help in my studio.
I don't think of him as an "art critic." I think of him as an intellectual who thinks deeply about art. I can't blame him for not wanting his intellect connected to the assignment of quality for investors who care about return, and not art. There is nothing stranger than seeing collector tours, led by critics, museum directors or curators, on a forced march through an art fair. Hickey didn't create that circumstance; the fair is a function of trading and selling, not criticism. And his writing is very much against what is posited but the idea of the fair.
Remember, Hickey was vilified by writers for THE INVISIBLE DRAGON. Artists embraced the book, because it valued the eye, the hand, skill, and commitment in the making of art. It was seen as reactionary. And I can remember seeing copies of AIR GUITAR in every studio I walked into (that is, every studio where someone was making something). It's interesting now that a lot of the artists in BEAU MONDE are still working and making interesting work. (Josiah McElheney, Stephen Prina, Jorge Pardo, Pia Fries and Alexis Smith to name a few.)
I remember years ago when I was in graduate school and Hickey came to speak at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He smoked during the lecture. He was ribald and funny and was quick on his feet in responding to questions and challenges to his intellect. This was in 2000. Some one asked him why he was afraid of the internet. He laughed and said he wasn't frightened of virtual reality; reality offered far scarier things.
He also said something about time-based art (which he talked about with an affected academic accent). He said, and I've never forgotten this, "Time-based art teaches you how to watch it." I thought that was profoundly astute and liberating for someone who was making paintings. It felt like a confirmation, that I could do something that wouldn't telegraph itself to the viewer, instead, the viewer could come to their own understanding of looking.
I don't see myself as outside of the discourse produced, supported, and sustained by artists, educators, theorists, curators, critics, and institutions. That's the artworld I'm in and the one that create(d) the context in which I work. Because of that, it is sad to see a thinker like Hickey leave the argument. I for one, think that artists have been too reliant on non-artists, critics, and curators for the framing of their work. It's long past time that artists start writing about their work, the work of their peers and the culture at large. Some artists do this brilliantly and have been doing it for a while (the brilliant Mira Schor and Phong Bui at the Brooklyn Rail are making great contributions) but there needs to be more.
Hickey isn't an artist and he doesn't write or talk like an academic. He trusts his eyes. He talks about what he sees and why it is interesting. And when he doesn't find something interesting he has the stones to say so, no matter who owns it. That is not a supported discourse in today's artworld where the critic is a cheerleader for work based on its market value. Now that criticism is reduced to a game piece in the strategy of building market value, I can't blame Hickey for wanting to be done with it. Who wants to play a game once the rules are changed?