Thursday, November 22, 2012

dave hickey is out of the closet (too late?)


dave hickey is out of the closet! (this closet courtesy of the artmarket).

why now?

"hickey's outburst comes as a number of contemporary art curators at world famous museums and galleries have complained..." (and if a curator complains, we have reasons to believe it's cosmetic). there's just too much interjection by helmore & gallagher in this observer piece. let's sift through & find some meaningful hickeyean bits:

It's time to start shorting some of this shit, (my favorite).

They're (collectors) in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It's just not serious,

Art editors and critics –people like me– have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It's not worth my time.

Is that elitist? Yes. Winners win, losers lose. Shoot the wounded, save yourself. Those are the rules, 

hickey's coming out is good news, his bitterly narcissistic declarations notwithstanding. picture the critic (ex-dealer, ex-professor & curator) disappointed with the establishment he was a part of, and help legitimized. now that he's redundant, now that the struggling artists he defended "live like the collectors I used to sell to (...) they have a house, a place in the country and a BMW."  isn't this a shocking admission for a staunch defender of "supply-side aesthetics"?

what's going on? plain frustration with the 21st-century diminished critic next to the rowdy parade of indifferent collectors, dealers, celebrities & art socialites attracted by the cultural spectacle of biennials and art-fairs. after the debacle of wall street the old arbiter of taste suddenly is exposed as arthoodicator of artlibor.

hickey feels betrayed, fooled by history. the past can play an inconvenient witness: the buoyant nineties and hickey's tautological defense of beauty,1 which arthur danto was right to suspect was not really about beauty, but "beauty as a proxy for something else" (and let's add, "beauty" at the service of the market).2 we need a bit of perspective.

what was hickey thinking in the early 1990's when he spoke so enthusiastically (& ambiguously) about beauty? (which reminds one of kant's quote, "the beautiful is the symbol of the morally good"). are not "beauty" and "democracy" two of hickey's favorite terms? he confidently writes in air guitar: "the good works of art that reside in our museums reside there not because they are good but because we love them." then,  close by (p. 202) good is linked to a "political fiction" that belongs in a "texture of the world." which texture? what hickey loosely calls "democracy."

here's the hickeyean aesthetic metonym for democracy: "the art world is no more a community than congress is a community." (p. 204). works of art are "candidates aspiring to represent complex constituencies" (?) (p. 205). looking at the last 20 years in our history (whether democracy or capitalism), how can one not suspect "art-as-hedge-fund"? or "democracy-as-corporation"? don't bother. you won't find any of this in hickey's writing. he declares: "art is not a commodity." really?  

can a "critic" be so disconnected? how about this? "art and money never touch: they exist in parallel universes" (p. 108).

mr. hickey: art today is for the ultra high net worth individuals, and their economy (unlike ours) is booming. beauty is a proxy for the fate of the superrich themselves.

this is the critic who in the 1990's argued (in context, it sounds romneyan) that the NEA had "transformed the institutional art world into a government-regulated industry."3 hickey is blind. during the decade of unrestrained wall street derivatives he openly defended the market side of aesthetics: "i am a consumer. i am arguing for the consumer side of the transaction."4 hickey felt so optimistic about his epoch and his role as critic that he bids farewell in air guitar with this late-romantic salvo:

"it is going to happen... is already beginning to happen" (p. 209 air guitar's last paragraph)

careful what you wish for.

there's a bit of bad faith: now that it's time to start shorting some of this $hit called contemporary art, hickey decides to throw the towel.

1 "beauty [is] the agency that cause[s] visual pleasure in the beholder." Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four essays on Beauty, (Art Issues Press, 1993) p. 11. 2Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art, (Open Court, Chicago, 2003), p. 8. one couldn't pretend to write about such art/beauty binity and not carry unwanted (enlightened) baggage along. in the last chapter of air guitar, hickey defends an idea of joy ("joy" is an important word in f. schiller's 18th century letters of man which subsequently influences kant's idea of pleasure, which is tied to the morally good which  informs the american critic's idea of beauty). 3 Dave Hickey, "An Address Regarding the Consequences of Supply-Side Aesthetics," Art Issues (Summer 1998) p. 13. 4 Grant Kester's Dave Hickey's Beauty.


Feminista said...

Yeap Triff. I love Air Guitar but Hickey's "revelations" are too selfish & too late.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. The big ones are either too old or too busy to change things.
Erwin C.

Anonymous said...

This post comes as a bit of surprise. I love Hickey but had not seen the connections you present. Not that I have changed my mind but I have to go back and read again.

Alfredo Triff said...

thanks, feminista & erwin can.
anonymous: there's always time to reconsider perspectives.