Democracy Speaks!

Dave Hickey at the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University (Jan. 14, 2010)

I was highly anticipating this lecture from Dave Hickey-- writer, freelance art and cultural critic, and MacArthur Fellowship winner among his many claims to fame. (As with any discussion of Warhol, the concept of fame itself played an important part throughout the evening.)   I had seen Dave speak one time before, in conjunction with his Beau Monde biennial at SITE Santa Fe, so I was eager to draw a comparison between the two talks.

But to be honest, I mostly went for the fun of just hanging out--for a short while and in a large crowd--in Hickey's presence. This was, I knew, the best place to enjoy his patented irreverence for certain aspects of life, his deft ability to pontificate on the intellectual underpinnings of American culture and democracy, and also where I could hopefully catch a brief joyride in the critical musings which, in the title essay of his collection "Air Guitar," he describes as "flurries of silent sympathetic gestures with nothing at their heart but the memory of the music."

Not many "rock star" art critics swing through the Raleigh-Durham area, so when it happens, ya gotta go.  As a participant in the endeavor of criticism myself,  I must admit a deep regard for Dave's writing, his cultural essays and "Art Issues" pieces in particular, for their accessibility, range and, like them or not, his compelling critiques.

At tonight's talk, Hickey played the role of raconteur extreme as only a participant in the early Factory scene (as Hickey was) with Andy Warhol could pull off.  The reason for Hickey's invite to the Nasher was in support of the museum's current exhibition, "Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids."

Early on in the talk, Hickey mentioned that he himself, along with his then-girlfriend, had been photographed somewhere in the nebulous sea of Polaroids that constantly flowed from Warhol's camera. Warhol would typically make two pictures of any one portrait shot:  one for his use, and another to give to the subject as a gift.   Hickey noted that immediately upon receiving his Polaroid, he promptly took it to a local drug dealer friend and traded for an ounce of coke.  Such were the days at the Factory when Warhol confidantes, assistants, artists, musicians, collectors, gallerists, hipsters and seemingly random passers-by all were an endless flow of subject matter and a marvelous cross section of certain segments of New York cosmopolitanism.

Certain recurring themes did come up in the talk:  the battle of mid 19th-century American Fundamentalism versus Thomas Paine's societal ideals and the concept of American cool versus European irony in particular.  These are themes that remain on Hickey's mind in general more than they were specific to a talk on Warhol.  I was especially glad when Hickey responded to an audience member's questions about the darker side of Warhol--disaster images and electric chair paintings and the like.  Hickey's response was that Warhol had become so embittered about the demands of his own celebrity that it gave rise to an anger about how people would bow down to any of the artist's requests which he found especially demeaning on their part.   The Factory could be a dark place, and I often wonder if casual museum-goers realize this when looking at Warhol's Flowers, Brillo boxes or Marilyn paintings.

In the end, Hickey's talk was not so much about the Polaroids per se as it was about the aura of the Factory and how Warhol fits into American culture in general.  To have been at the Factory back in the day must have really been something.  But to hear Hickey riff on it is also something in itself.  

January 15, 2010 11:08 AM |



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This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on January 15, 2010 11:08 AM.

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