PRINT May 1996


Dave Hickey’s Real Life Rock

Dave Hickey is a frequent contributor to Artforum.


    Center, Houston Rockets. When you appear to be moving slowly and deliberately—and everyone else appears to be moving quickly—and you get there first, you may be said to have pace. You dictate the tempo, and the world moves in time with your heart. Gee, what a wonderful basketball player.


    Sands Hotel, Las Vegas. One of the perks of living in Vegas during this Golden Age of female comedians is that you get the funny stuff up close and undiluted by TV morality. Rita Rudner, Ellen Degeneres, Brett Butler, Paula Poundstone, and Elayne Boosler play here regularly (Poundstone doesn’t like it though, preferring Cambridge, Mass., but that’s pretty funny itself). Of all these women, Rudner is the most preternaturally sensitive to linguistic nuance: “My boyfriend and I broke up,” she explains. “He wanted to get married and I didn’t want him to.” Funny, of course, but the concision! The elegance of the reversal! Somewhere, J. L. Austin is smiling.

  3. Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

    Beyond Piety: Critical Essays on the Visual Arts 1986–1993 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, $80). In an age when post-Structuralist critique is generally performed the way provincial choirs do Handel—with reverent solemnity—Beyond Piety is exactly where you want to go, especially with Gilbert-Rolfe, who is wholly dedicated to dragging Continental theory, kicking and screaming, into the “problematic” realm of pleasure and visibility. Consequently, these essays on art and fashion constitute a live and lively endeavor, and if “Vision’s Resistance to Language” and “Baudrillard’s Aestheticism and the Art World’s Politics” were required reading for artists, art would be a livelier one as well—and criticism less vulnerable to unctuous Handel-ing.


    “After the Fall,” from Human Remains (Sugar Hill). A new song for the soundtrack of my life. Sample lyrics:

    Hey Remember all those psychedelic nights
    When your head come loose and floated into the lights
    And all them girls without any tops at all
    Down in the Dirt uhh huhh
    After the Fall.
    Hey Remember the Holy Road running red
    With blood from the mouths of mystics
    When they said
    “Let’s eat flesh from the knees of Jesus
    while he crawls”
    Down in the Dirt uhh huhh
    After the Fall.

    Okay, all together now, from the top.


    “The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly: Modern Life in Napoleonic France,” Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Like the beautiful show of Tiepolo’s oil sketches that the Kimbell mounted two years ago, this exhibition provides a comprehensive, scholarly, and historical setting for a specific work in the Kimbell’s collection (Boilly’s Geography Lesson). As such,this exhibition is the absolute exemplar of enlightened museum practice in an age when large institutions, rather than enriching our experience of works we may see every day, seem dedicated to skimming the cream off our interest with blowsy, itinerant blockbusters. Also, Boilly is quite the spiffy painter—one of the first beguiled by the dreamy theater of quotidian bourgeois existence, he portrays its tiny dramas and silken textures with suave aplomb.


    Explanation and Power: The Control of Human Behavior (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, $15.95). First published in 1979, Peckham’s endgame of pragmatist semiotics drives its first principle, that the “meaning of a sign is the response to it,” to a dark conclusion: that there is no such thing as communication, only dominant sign systems competing for the control of behavior. A quirky, difficult, and bleakly American book, whose strength is exemplified in the fact that, however strenuously one recoils from Peckham’s conclusions, it is almost impossible to resist their force, or to suppress the occasional shudder at their implications. Yikes!


    “A Survey,” Fred Hoffman Fine Art, Los Angeles. This miniretrospective of work by the sweetest and sanest victim of “the critique of representation” includes the artist’s transcendent monument to the heroic intime—Still Life #60, 1973, a 10-by-28-foot tableau of freestanding paintings that portray a book of matches, a pair of sunglasses, a tube of lipstick, a ring, a string of beads, and a bottle of fingernail polish, as they might be deposited on a bedside table by a woman just in for a “nooner.” It’s a gallant memento and a fitting centerpiece for two large rooms of Wesselmann’s work dating from 1959 to 1995 that are as bright and tight, as noisy and generous, as a vintage Kinks concert—as fresh and vulnerable as the day you fell in love. These paintings may be wrong, but they sure ain’t bad. (And they ain’t wrong either.)


    Modernday Folklore (Capricorn Records). Hot rock ’n’ roll from an Austin guitar-hero and his tough little band. Lots of drive, funk, crunch, and passion—sweet singing and exquisite musicianship with echoes of everything good, but no influences beyond the thick tradition of Southern roadhouse rock with its unwavering focus and faithless love, hard narcotics, and bluesy virtuosity. A few more CDs like this, and we all be drinkin’ and dancin’ and stayin’ up late.


    A cavernous room with one enormous wall covered by giant TV screens and tote boards. The floor area is filled with café tables, lounge chairs, video-poker machines, and library carrels for the handicappers. Most Sunday mornings in the spring, I wander over, bet some hoops, have some breakfast, read the Sunday Times, smoke cigarettes, and play video poker while watching 15 basketball games, a couple of hockey matches, and assorted thoroughbred races with a crowd of ebullient companions heavily invested in the outcomes of these contests. Heaven on Paradise Road.


    Las Vegas Sun. In its entirety: “SWF 5’6” 120 lbs. Blonde. I will watch sports on TV." It ran once.