Saturday, June 12, 2004

Best Book of Last Week


A real life MF'nA lent me her copy of Dave Hickey's Air Guitar after she said that a review of the Whitney Biennial I did for the law school paper reminded her of his writing. Having just finished Air Guitar, I'm certainly flattered by the comparison, but won't dwell on it any longer because I'm two sentences into a three paragraph post about someone else being awesome and my ego is already out of control.

For the uninformed (and this I pretty much take straight from the book's back page, because the uniformed is what I was before I read it myself), Dave Hickey, formerly a owner and director of several art galleries and editor or staff writer for various art magazines and currently a professor of art criticism and theory at UNLV, has written for most major American cultural publications and Air Guitar gathers the finest of his magazine writing into an easy to hold book form. Having read next to no art criticism, I know enough to see that Hickey's writing isn't typical. It's down to earth, without pretension, and you can really feel that he's trying to connect with his reader on a very straight-forward, straight-shooting level. It reminds me of the writing of Berkeley philosopher John Searle: neither man chooses to hide behind the artifices of intellectualism that their peers often build between themselves and their audiences, both hunker down with the reader and explain themselves in clear, concise terms without a hint of pandering to or patronizing the reader.

Hickey's essays are cleverly arranged in the book to draw the reader in with several simple topics (a defense of Las Vegas, a peak into his childhood and the formation of his creative self, problems with art dealers these days, a panegyric on Liberace, etc.) that establish 1) That Dave has been around, 2) That Dave knows what he's talking about, 3) That Dave is cool, and 4) That Dave is your pal and he respects your intelligence. Then, about 18 essays into the book, you hit his titular essay. Suddenly, with the "Air Guitar" inside Air Guitar, Hickey hits you with 8 pages of unrestrained meta-criticism that, if you at all enjoy talking about art or literature, or talking about talking about art or literature, or even talking about talking about talking about art and literature, will give you goose bumps and make your brain fire. After gaining your confidence and trust for 163 pages, the gloves come off and Hickey shows you that he really, really knows what he's talking about and that he really, really knows how to say it. After Air Guitar, Hickey finishes the book with a few more brainy essays and a few more along the lines of what he started the book off with, and when you finish the book and close the book for the last time, you can't help but look at the little sticker on the cover that reads "Dave Hickey: Winner of the "Genius Award"/MacArthur Fellow 2001-2006" and agree that they picked the right guy.

Footnotes:
1) I didn't have anywhere else to put this, but I must warn potential readers of Air Guitar that they better already know what "quotidian" means, or be ready to look it up, because Hickey's use of "quotidian" per page ratio is the highest I've encountered since Quotidious Quotidium's "Quotidiae Quotinium."
2) When I was in grade school I used to stay up late on weekends watching GLOW (the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) and for a long time I've wondered if I was the only person who did because, hey, where's the GLOW nostalgia? If we can stay up all night talking about GI Joe and Transformers and classic WWF, why not GLOW? But thanks to Hickey's behind-the-scenes look at GLOW, "Godiva Speaks," I'm more than taken care of.

1 comment:

emasp said...

does hickey also make terrible passes at grad students like searle does?

brig, i read a cool article of hickey's in the new yorker a while ago about how the old masters used those thingeys, camera obscuras or whatever, to project their subjects onto the canvas. the development of that technology corresponded directly to the advances in realism of whenever that was.