Death of art critic Dave Hickey, known for his book “Air Guitar”


Dave Hickey, a prominent American art critic whose essays spanned subjects ranging from Siegfried & Roy to Norman Rockwell, has died.

His books, including “The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty” (1993) and “Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy” (1997), have won him legions of fans beyond experts in the art world.

His elegant prose, his brash criticism of tasteful institutions like museums and universities, and his equal adherence to works considered both high and low left a lasting influence on a generation of artists and critics.

“There is no one like him. He belongs to the canon of American non-fiction prose, ”wrote his biographer Daniel Oppenheimer in“ Far From Respectable: Dave Hickey and His Art, ”published last June.

He died Nov. 12 at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after years of heart disease, said Libby Lumpkin, an art historian married to him. He was 82 years old.

David Hickey was born in 1938 in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and California. After completing graduate programs at hopscotch, he dropped out and opened a contemporary art gallery in Austin, Texas. He moved to New York in 1971, where he directed other galleries, edited the publication Art in America and wrote for Village Voice magazine and Rolling Stone. His work and interests immersed him in an artistic community that included Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper and David Bowie.

Art critic Dave Hickey has often championed the gaming culture and the Las Vegas way of life.
John Sciulli / Getty Images for Art Los Angeles Contemporary

Hickey then moved to Las Vegas to teach at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. In essays published in “Air Guitar” on how art should fit into a larger culture, he defended Las Vegas as the most American of American cities for its detachment from traditional social hierarchies.

America “is a very bad lens through which to see Las Vegas, while Las Vegas is a wonderful lens through which to see America. What is hidden elsewhere exists here in daily visibility, ”he writes.

Hickey took issue with the idea that the Strip’s neon lights were somehow inauthentic, pushed back against notions that Las Vegas entertainment was not culturally relevant, and “especially enjoyed a good session of cigarettes and gambling. at the Eureka Casino on East Sahara Avenue, where he was often seen with a cigarette while tapping slot machine buttons, ”according to an obituary in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

This May 2008 photo provided by Libby Lumpkin shows Dave Hickey, left with Peter Schjeldahl.
Dave Hickey (left) with fellow art critic Peter Schjeldahl in May 2008.
Libby Lumpkin via AP

In “The Invisible Dragon” and later works, Hickey’s endorsement of “beauty” as the ultimate arbiter of artistic merit sparked conflict with his theoretically-oriented and conceptual art-minded contemporaries. of the 20th century, who preferred to deconstruct the reasons people find things in Be Beautiful.

“He chooses to overlook the idea that beauty can simply be what the ruling economic and social elites say it is. In the process, his opponents argue, he substitutes his own bad boy judgments for those of narrow-minded art professionals, ”The New York Times wrote in a profile of Hickey in 1999.

Lumpkin said her husband never intended to defend traditionalism as his critics claimed.

“Much of Dave’s work has been misinterpreted. It was assumed that the beauty he was talking about was something very old-fashioned, but he was a supporter of very conceptual artists from the start, ”she said.

Grace Slick and Dave Hickey (with her portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson)
Dave Hickey (right) spent his final years teaching at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
Denise Truscello / WireImage

His tastes were indeed eclectic. He sang the praises of artists and popular culture figures ranging from Norman Rockwell to Robert Mapplethorpe to Ellsworth Kelly. His essays covered basketball player Julius Erving, reruns of the “Perry Mason” television series and outlaw country music.

In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation awarded him a “genius” grant for his body of work. He was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 2003 and won a Peabody Award for a 2006 documentary about Andy Warhol.

Hickey and Lumpkin decamped to Santa Fe in 2010 and accepted positions at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. Lumpkin said Hickey viewed teaching as one of his most important work and legacy.

“He was a real intellectual without being a snob and he trusted his students to be able to think theoretically. When you put your trust in students like that, they get it and they make great art, ”Lumpkin said.



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