Dave Hickey Is Retiring (Sort Of)

What about art critics? Do they have any place in this system anymore? They used to have an influence over whether people bought things or not. Do they still have that?

We have no power at all. We just market aphorisms. This is mostly because of magazine economics. Good critics are expensive. I am expensive. Academics work for free to get tenure, and, since they are worried about the approval of their colleagues, they are fearful of making value judgments. Also, most of my peers and contemporaries learned how to write magazine journalism. We know how to do a transition, we know how to do a lead, we know what a hook is, and we’re literate. Most critics today come out of art academia, where they don’t even understand the future-imperfect tense. People like me, the late Bob Hughes, Chris Knight, Peter Plagens, Jerry Saltz and Peter Schjeldahl—we’re sort of like sewing machine repairmen after the sewing machine has gone out of fashion. All my friends have fancy magazine or newspaper gigs, however, and Jerry has developed a new sort of Chautauqua gig on the side, but Jerry likes people. I don’t, and publishers don’t like me. I’ve interviewed for a couple of these jobs. Publishers take one look at me and think trouble, so I’m just out here by myself, which is fine because they’re right. I am trouble.

What do you miss about the art world of old?

I miss being an elitist and not having to talk to idiots. When I went into the art world there were 6,000 people who were there voluntarily, who didn’t get benefits, retirement or medical. We were all just freelance adventurers and we used to hang out. I loved the talk. The handicapping. There were no “professors” and nobody had a job, so we made up jobs. Rolf Ricke and I used to tell people we were art dealers, in Kassel and Austin, for Christ’s sake. Then people started asking us for things, so we eventually became art dealers just because you had to tell people you did something. The end of the world for me—and I’m being serious—is that I’ve seen dealers, magazines, collectors, critics and museums abandon their own reckless taste for security and money and give their power away. As a result there is power scattered on the ground in the art world. At the same time, I have to emphasize that I think the art is great. There’s as much good art out there now as there was in—maybe not in 1968—but certainly there’s as much good art as there was in 1978 or 1988. The difference? The art world used to let in gangs—the Pop gang, the Minimalist gang—and now they let artists in one at a time and isolate them from their peers. This is bad medicine So, if you’re an artist, join a gang. Make up signs. Demand respect, but don’t drive-by critics. It’s our job to hurt you. Sorry about that.

Dave Hickey Is Retiring (Sort Of)