News and Features

About Dave Hickey Quitting Art Criticism …

Image from The Art Reserve
… if you go to our feature story about the Ken Price exhibition at the Nasher, you’ll catch some of the lines from my interview with the famously contentious and wonderfully quotable Dave Hickey, who knew Price and wrote an essay about him for the exhibition catalog. Hickey is the former Fort Worth Star-Telegram arts editor and the influential author of such essay collections as Air Guitar, in which he tackled various aspects of pop culture, and The Invisible Dragon, in which he wrestles with beauty.

Speaking of quotability: Back in October, Hickey set off a mild windstorm in art circles by telling the London Observer that he was sick of the contemporary art market and what its idiot-rich collectors and hedge funds had done to art — and he washed his hands of all of it. That announcement produced post-mortem responses like this one in Glasstire, in which Janet Tyson rather improbably blamed Hickey, in part, for some of the very excesses in the art world that he attacked. As a former gallery owner, Hickey has been a big believer in artists getting out into the market, finding their audience, engaging with popular culture  — because what has been the practical alternative? An academy judging and showing works picked by critics and fellow artists? Hickey hated the academic world’s airless treatment of art long before he got disgusted with the distortions of investment collecting.

It was also evident, even only a few days after the Observer column appeared, that Hickey was not actually retiring-retiring. There’s still too much life in the man. And, in fact, if you go back to the original Observer story, you’ll notice that it never actually quotes Hickey about quitting. He expresses his disgust with critics becoming courtiers to the wealthy, about how he can’t take a lot of the art world seriously any more: “It’s not worth my time.” But all of the “turn his back on” and “change of heart” lines are the reporters’ and not Hickey’s.

So when I had the chance, I asked him, what gives?

And unlike the playful response Hickey gave the Gallerist/NY — “I plan to disappear like Marcel Duchamp, which is to not quite disappear. I’m about to leave…oops, I haven’t left yet but keep on looking. I’m about to leave. I’m giving it all up for chess, that type of thing. I’m actually giving it all up for statistics” — he was pretty straightforward.

He says he’s quitting daily journalism. Which, at 72, is perfectly understandable. He’s currently working on four anthologies of his essays — in addition to “a book for London called Pirates and Farmers, which is about taste, ultimately about taste… It’s also about how much fun it was to take drugs and about ultimate fighting. Things like that, things that are kind of out on the fringe. I’m having a hard time writing an essay about Ghanaian paintings in the ’80s and ’90s when all these painters did these big paintings as posters for kung-fu films. It was a very liberating experience for them and for all of us, some of the most outrageous, most boisterous art in the world. And [I’m writing] about the birth of Zap Comics, which started the same way with guys doing posters for the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin.”