Dave Hickey

  • “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines”

    When Robert Rauschenberg is finally recognized as the Walt Whitman of late-twentieth-century America, the Combines will be his Leaves of Grass. They will stand, like Whitman’s masterpiece, as a moment synthesized, an all-inclusive, promiscuous embrace of America in its first, riotous, postindustrial bang. So we should never forget that the Combines came into the world as rowdy, impudent rough trade, and if they no longer seem as mute and brute as they once did, it’s only because we have invented words to defend ourselves. Today, we speak casually of art and life

  • Tom Wesselman

    Tom Wesselmann began his career with a joke too good to go unpunished. When he began painting his stylized odalisques in the early ’60s, he called them Great American Nudes—of which, at that time, if one excepts Eakins’s nubile boys, there were exactly none. Unfortunately, Wesselmann’s insistence that our experience of modern art is grounded in eros and intimacy would be sneered away by the “isms” of the ’70s, along with his American vogue. It is altogether appropriate, then, that this thematic survey of some thirty canvases and free-standing works (most made since 1987)

  • “Beyond Geometry”

    I have no doubt that Lynn Zelevansky’s “Beyond Geometry” began as a labor of love, because blurred but still visible in the midst of this desultory extravaganza there is a smaller, more original exhibition trying to get out. This embedded exhibition examines the cosmopolitan flowering of geometric abstract art in the years following World War II. It expands the canonical framework and “de-Americanizes” the art history of that period. It could have done more. If its curator had not been so anxious to rush forward into the comfort zone of post-Minimal tedium, that smaller exhibition might have

  • The best books of 2000

    Linda Nochlin

    Molly Nesbit’s Their Common Sense (Black Dog Press) isn’t exactly an art book—it’s not exactly a book even, in the usual sense. But in the unusual sense, Nesbit’s tome is a marvelous document, swinging briskly between the teaching of mechanical drawing in French schools and the arcanery of Duchamp & Co. It begins in very big print with Antonin Proust’s proposal that all French schoolchildren learn to draw and ends with a memorable still from Pabst’s Joyless Streets. In between? Children’s drawings (not the cute, creative ones, but disciplined, drafting lesson productions), some


    Long a cult favorite, painter John Wesley receives an overdue first U.S. retrospective on view through November at New York's P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. To mark the occasion, Dave Hickey offers an appreciation of the pop eccentric's wry and whimsical four-decade career.

    WHEN POST-GLOBAL-WARMING anthropologists begin paddling through the streets of Manhattan in search of visible evidence that this republic was, in its tone and temper, the cosmopolitan democracy that it purported to be, one can only hope that the earnest scientists will stumble across a trove of John Wesley's paintings in some

  • “Clemente”

    Let me confess at the outset that I was genuinely disappointed by Francesco Clemente’s exhibition at the Guggenheim, but not, perhaps, for the right reasons. Certainly, I was disappointed not because one expects better from the Guggenheim (one doesn’t) or because we deserve better (we don’t), or even because I expected to see a serious retrospective exhibition (I didn’t). What I expected was a fragrance, an essence, as advertised by the exhibition’s trademark title, “Clemente”—as if murmured by one of those Euro-teens who trip up to you in Bloomingdale’s, squeeze an atomizer, and becloud you

  • Dave Hickey

    1. “Robert Gober” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1997) Gober’s installation, with its penetrated Virgin, subterranean tide pools, and waterfall stairwell, is my icon of the decade. In its intellectual rigor and plangent availability, it’s as close as we’re likely to get to the refinement and generosity of a seventeenth-century sculptural occasion. We may speculate on its wry deconstruction of Duchampian aesthetics, or we may, as one of the museum guards did, make a gesture indicating the flow of experience through the pipe and through the Virgin, and simply say, “Clemencia, Señor.

  • Dave Hickey

    1. ROBERT GOBER (The Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles) The one-night-stand aspect of museum installations has never been dramatized more poignantly than in Robert Gober’s magnificent tableau at the Geffen. The experience of seeing the piece (which combined aspects of a Bernini fountain with a gorgeous, Thoreauvian Etant donnés) was quite literally haunted by knowledge of its transience. Upon arrival, you immediately wanted to return, and then return again. Leaving the museum, I felt like Bogey watching Bergman fly away into the fog.

    2. RICHARD SERRA, TORQUED ELLIPSES (The Geffen Contemporary,

  • Christopher Wool

    Confessions first: I am not a “pure” critic. I routinely purchase works of art with the money I earn by writing about them. In my youth, I actually owned a gallery and sold art for a living. As a consequence, I never stroll through an institutional exhibition, in my role as art critic, unaccompanied by my two unfashionable alter-egos: the low-end collector and the ex–art dealer. These guys usually feel marginalized on such occasions, since present fashion dictates that we look at art the way we listen to songs on the radio—looking for the two-minute stand—the short-attention-span bang of the

  • Dave Hickey

    1 Ellsworth Kelly (Guggenheim Museum, New York): An interesting moment: Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns passing like ships in the night. Kelly’s French-kissed Hudson River-Pop never looked more relevant or more refined than in this splendid retrospective—especially in Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda, where Kelly’s sense of geometric nuance effortlessly recruits the willful perversity of the architecture to its own subtle purpose. The space will never look better. So why take it down?

    2 “Spot Making Sense” (Grand Arts, Kansas City): A bright show in a sleek space with no angst and very little reading.

  • Open Charms

    IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a corny and annoying movie, for sure, but like a lot of corny and annoying movies, it’s grounded in a solid premise: that the fabric of the social world is so seamless and closely woven that individual contributions to its texture and configuration are perceptible only by imagining it without them. So try this little trick with me: Stand up here with the angel for a moment and look down on the ’50s and ’60s in the United States and Europe. Now (a snap of the fingers!), envision that same world without Robert Rauschenberg. Note the immediate visual deficit; the sudden


    ON A RAINY NOVEMBER evening in 1964, in a bookstore across the street from the University of Texas in Austin, I came upon five thin white books stacked on a waist-high breakfront shelf. On the cover of the top book, three lines of bold, red serif type announced:




    I picked one up and opened it. The title page read “TWENTYSIX/GASOLINE/STATIONS/EDWARD RUSCHA/1962,” and I immediately thought, “Sixty two! I’m two years late!”—because the book was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Well, maybe not altogether cooler than the Warhols I’d seen that summer, but cooler in a plainer,

  • Dave Hickey


    In an art world full of “strong artists” getting fat at the trough of weakness and abjection, KAREN CARSON is the healthy exception: a drama queen who kicks butt. Think Bonnie Raitt meets Dorothy Parker, Fabergé graffiti, Dostoyevsky writes Jane Austen—that general area. A witty, worldly feminist with her heart on her sleeve and the world in her eye, Carson operates with the anxiety meter posting in the red. From the wry, striptease minimalism of her early zipper pieces, through the gaudy smoke-and-mirrors of her abstract “hot flashes,” to the flashy graphics of her recent Vegas


    I HAVE BEEN CLOSE pals with Dave Hickey, the Walter Pater of the Southwest, for only a few years. He used to scare me. I felt sullenly competitive with him. Then my character improved, I guess, to the point where I could accept his generosity. Dave makes of his gifts a gift to others. Now he is like the friend I was supposed to have in seventh grade and didn’t. His successes please me nearly as much as my own. (They’re less work, for one thing.) I like to think we constitute an aging youth gang of incorrigible esthetes: rugged individualist sniffers of the perfumed hanky, if you will. And if

  • Dave Hickey


    The best thing about “The World of JEFFREY VALLANCE,” at the Santa Monica Museum, is that it would exist, I suspect, even if art museums did not. It is a cabinet of curiosities, really, filled with trophies, relics, and texts documenting Vallance’s steerage-class adventures around the globe. As such, it is eminently available to any citizen with a modicum of curiosity. So any urban space would do—and another urban space might do better, in fact, since, in the midst of an elite culture dedicated to parsing the dissonance of disembodied significations, Vallance joyously pursues



    Make It New

    Bruce Nauman retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Bad news from the studio, but real news nevertheless. Twenty-five years of pieces, each of which seems to have arisen out of a condition of sudden panic—out of the terror of not knowing, of having forgotten, willfully, day after day, what art is and what an artist might do—of having forgotten, even, what an artist is. A fountain? A source of mystic truths? A cruel instructor? A tortured clown? We get one brutal, last-ditch guess after another, and the whole practice of “artmaking” is reinvented, again