Art critic Dave Hickey, known for book ‘Air Guitar’, dies

Dave Hickey was an American art critic who wrote essays on topics ranging from Siegfried & Roy, Norman Rockwell and others, has passed away.

His books include “The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty”(1993) “Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy”(1997), won him legions more fans than art world experts.

His styleful prose, harsh criticism of taste-making institutions like universities and museums, and equal embrace of works that are considered high- or low-brow had a lasting effect on a generation.

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

After years of heart disease and years of suffering, he died in Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 12, 2012. He was 82.

David Hickey was created in Fort Worth, Texas in 1938. He grew up moving all over Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. After hopping around through graduate school programs, Hickey decided to quit and open a contemporary art gallery, Austin, Texas. In 1971, he moved to New York, where he opened more galleries, edited Art in America, and wrote for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. His work and interests led him to join an artistic community that included Andy Warhol (Denis Hopper) and David Bowie.

Hickey later moved to Las Vegas to be a professor at the University of Las Vegas. In the essays published in “Air Guitar” about how art should fit into broader culture, he championed Las Vegas as the most American of American cities for its detachment from traditional social hierarchies.

America “is a very poor lens through which to view Las Vegas, while Las Vegas is a wonderful lens through which to view America. He wrote that “what is hidden elsewhere exists here, in quotidian vision.”

Hickey challenged the idea that the Strip’s neon lights were somehow inauthentic, pushed back against notions that Las Vegas entertainment was culturally irrelevant and “especially enjoyed a good smoke and gambling spree at Eureka Casino on East Sahara Avenue, where he was often spotted with a cigarette while jabbing at slot machine buttons,” according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal obituary.

In “The Invisible Dragon” and later works, Hickey’s endorsement of “beauty”His status as the ultimate arbiter on artistic value sparked a conflict with his contemporaries, who were more concerned about 20th century conceptual art’s theory or meaning and preferred to deconstruct why people find things beautiful.

“He chooses to overlook the view that beauty may be merely what the ruling economic and social elites say it is. In the process, his adversaries argue, he substitutes his own bad-boy outsider judgments for those of narrow-minded art professionals,”The New York Times published a 1999 profile about Hickey.

Lumpkin claimed that her husband never meant to champion traditionalism, as his critics claimed.

“A lot of Dave’s work was misinterpreted. The assumption was made that the beauty he was talking about was something very old fashioned, but he was a supporter of very conceptual artists from the beginning,”She spoke.

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

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

Lumpkin and Hickey decamped to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2010, where they accepted positions at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Lumpkin stated that Hickey considered teaching his most important work.

“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 good art,”Lumpkin said.


Metz is a Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps member. Report for America is an independent national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to cover under-covered issues.

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