Dave Hickey's been receiving some discussion due to the talk he gave last month at the Frieze Art Fair entitled "Schoolyard Art: Playing Fair Without the Referee" (text of it here, podcast here, Callen Bair wrote on it just after it happened, while Ed was on it last week.) I don't have much to say about it, and haven't ever had much to say about Hickey, as I must confess that until last, week, I had never knowingly read anything by him. I had heard a great deal, of course, enough so that when I found myself in late October out in Williamstown to see the Clark's new Fragonard exhibition (about which more to come), I took the opportunity to pick up his well-known and, I gather, highly regarded collection of essays, Air Guitar from the museum's excellent bookstore. I haven't finished it, so no final discussion from me, and I won't deny I've found some things of interest. Hickey certainly writes well, if in a style that's a bit dated. He has a taste for the audacious that, while not as charming as he seems to think it is, does lead him to some fresh takes, as in his essay on Liberace and his museum. But man . . . the endless namedropping, the straw men, the conflation of culture and society, the tiresome populist posturing--are people impressed by all this, or just willing to overlook it? Because while I'm not going to say the book's totally worthless, it's not really grabbing me. I know the essays are a decade or more old now, but c'mon: embracing Las Vegas as a way to kid on the squares was tired even then. I do give him some credit for acknowledging in the book's title essay that it's all basically wanking, but still: please try to be less of a wanker.
I admit that I might feel differently if I picked up something else by Hickey (I'd like to see his essays on beauty in The Invisible Dragon, for instance.) And maybe I'll change my mind by the time I finish the book. We shall see. I should note that anyone who has a chance to get to the Clark in the coming week should do so, as they seem to have extended the run of the exhibition of their large recent gift of British art to November 11. I was a little tired by the time I got to it--I've decided for the future that Williamstown is definitely not a day trip--but there's a number of wonderful things, including several Constable cloud studies and other sketches, plus some excellent watercolors by lesser known (at least by me) artists from the same time. I have to say, however, that viewing the exhibition only edged me along further in the view that the only Turner I like to look at is early Turner. All those lurid marshmallow smears of later years move me less and less. Anyway, I should probably listen to the Hickey podcast; hearing his tone might give me a better sense of him . . . or not.