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Robert Hughes died in New York yesterday.
August 6, 2012 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Influential Australian art critic Robert Hughes, author of The Shock of the New and The Fatal Shore, has died aged 74.
posted by wilful (62 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, sad news. The Shock of the New had a tremendous impact on me; I'm sorry now that I didn't send Mr. Hughes a fan letter.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:16 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by hal9k at 5:25 PM on August 6, 2012


I actually only just heard about The Shock Of The New from this recent FPP and was intrigued enough to watch the whole thing on Youtube. It's a great watch and seemed like a really interesting guy, RIP.

As an aside, that show led me to look for more similar stuff, I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend Simon Schama's Power of Art, which I found on DVD at my local library.
posted by chaff at 5:29 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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He was one of the few art critics I would read or watch. Amazing insights and opinions in plain English. The art world is now lacking a clear voice.
posted by njohnson23 at 5:30 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh hell.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:35 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by Mblue at 5:39 PM on August 6, 2012


. Oh man. I am sad. Shock of the New was pretty influential.
posted by mkim at 5:47 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by acb at 5:50 PM on August 6, 2012


Shock of the New, the TV series, was one of my first exposures to the history and meaning of art. It has influenced my thinking ever since. RIP, Robert Hughes and thank you.

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posted by Mittenz at 5:50 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by peacay at 5:52 PM on August 6, 2012


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Shock of the New had a big influence on me as an artist. It's one of the few shows with segments so vivid that I can cite them from memory, 30+ years later.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:52 PM on August 6, 2012


If you ask where is the Picasso of England or the Ezra Pound of France, there is only one probable answer: still in the trenches.

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posted by Egg Shen at 5:54 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gah. Nothing If Not Criticial was a lot fun for me and a badly needed counterpoint to the kind of criticism that I was swamped with in art school. The Fatal Shore was another wonderful read.

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posted by $0up at 5:54 PM on August 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Flashman at 5:56 PM on August 6, 2012


The Shock of the New is on youtube.
posted by cromagnon at 5:59 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


. Barcelona was a great book, and he was always ready with a contrarian viewpoint. He was not easily impressed, which is a good trait in a critic.
posted by fellorwaspushed at 6:06 PM on August 6, 2012


However concentrated they became... van Gogh's paintings were not the work of a madman, they were done by an ecstatic who was also a great formal artist. Today the doctors would give him lithium and tranquilizers, and we would probably not have the paintings: had the obsessions been banished, the exorcising power of the art could well have leaked away. Van Gogh confronted the world with an insecure joy. Nature was to him both exquisite and terrible. It consoled him, but it was his judge. It was the fingerprint of God, but the finger was always pointed at him.

I found The Shock of the New last year; the amazing thing about the book is how many observations like the one above fill its pages.

Not a good year for the public intellectual, at least not the kind that I like.

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posted by Currer Belfry at 6:07 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Fatal Shore was fantastic. Sorry to read of his passing.

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posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:07 PM on August 6, 2012


I don't read 800-page history books but I read The Fatal Shore and I was sorry to see it end.
posted by escabeche at 6:10 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by Otherwise at 6:16 PM on August 6, 2012


A great mind and prose stylist too.

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posted by jonp72 at 6:28 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by droplet at 6:33 PM on August 6, 2012


I love The Fatal Shore. Incredible book. I had no idea he was an art critic...
posted by Jimbob at 6:46 PM on August 6, 2012




I saw The Shock of the New in grade 9 social studies class, a very progressive teacher we had it turns out. The modern art in it alienated me but Mr Hughes interest and reverence for it meant some of those pieces were very well remembered indeed when I ended up going to art school later on in life.
So, thanks for being one of the first, if not the first, people who showed me there was more out there than I imagined in the fairly stultifying culture I grew up in.

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posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 6:54 PM on August 6, 2012


Watteau managed to skim off Rubens's lustrous surface and endow it with a still greater sense of nuance, while leaving his master's tyrannous physicality behind. To look at his fêtes champêtres - those felicitously idealized gatherings of young lovers planted on the unchanging lawn of a social Eden - is to think of pollen and silk, not flesh. Watteau was a great painter of the naked body, but his nudes tend to privacy and reflection. They are completely unlike Rubens's magniloquent blonde wardrobes. He seems, for this reason, the more erotic artist.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:56 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a loss. His evisceration of Jeff Koons in American Visions is unforgettable. "Accusing him of hype is like rebuking a fish for being wet. Hi, Jeff. A kitten in a giant sock--tell me about it."
posted by Karmadillo at 6:56 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Fatal Shore is a brilliant book. If you haven't read it, it's an eye opening account of the horrors that founded this country.
posted by mattoxic at 7:01 PM on August 6, 2012


Matt, I read it many years ago, hardly recall it, so just bought a copy from the UK for $1.
posted by wilful at 7:04 PM on August 6, 2012


I'd never seen Jeff Koons before. He has a very slappable face, doesn't he?
posted by benito.strauss at 7:20 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hughes and Clive James in 1959 on the Sydney Beatniks. (James calls Hughes "the Bastard from the Bush dressed up as the Wandering Scholar" in a review of Things I Didn't Know that is also a memoir of their personal relationship.)

Australia: Beyond The Fatal Shore is terribly hard to get hold of, but I greatly enjoyed it at the time of its broadcast: a long-time expat's reflection on Australia's ongoing search for a distinct national identity. As this contemporary review notes, it's also shaped by the car crash during filming that nearly killed him, and which greatly affected his later years. RIP.
posted by holgate at 7:43 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, shit.

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posted by hot soup girl at 7:45 PM on August 6, 2012


Oh, this is sad. I didn't know he was so very ill. He died at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. That is basically a hospice, a hospital for palliative care. It sounds like he had a long drawn out and difficult Final Exit, particularly with his estranged son, Danton, committing suicide 10 years ago, only a few years after Robert Hughes almost died himself in a horrible car crash.

I met Hughes in NYC when I was a kid, way back in the mid-1960's. It was a Time or Look magazine photo shoot for something I forget and I was a child model. Not sure what he role was, something to do with culture or art. In the way kids know things about adults, I knew right away that he was intelligent, witty, jaded, a sort of walking shaggy dog story. He seemed a bit lost somehow at that time and I was so happy for him when he was older and became a renowned art critic. He became so much more bold and forthright.

I loved his art criticism, even if I didn't always agree with him, it was still very worth listening to and mind expanding. He was a complex, interesting human being, who added a lot to the world with his way of making people look at things with more open eyes.

At least he found loving, mutual comfort and support with his last wife, artist Doris Downes. My condolences to her and to his many friends.
posted by nickyskye at 7:46 PM on August 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


He was one of the few critics I've read whose work could be as beautiful as poetry, or as the art he wrote about. The Fatal Shore was sublime...
posted by rleamon at 8:12 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Wolof at 8:25 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by sciencejock at 8:28 PM on August 6, 2012


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Those clips folks are posting are great, not least because they all feature critiques I completely agree with closely followed by bald assertions I wholeheartedly reject. Honestly, I never went very deep into Hughes' art criticism, even though he often said things I liked, because to me there was always something deeply reactionary alongside his profoundly liberal arts approach. That tension is what I recall defining my reaction to his work. It's hard to listen to him say "America is in the business of inventing identities, based on narrow conceptions of gender, race and the rest" and not suspect there's at least something he's missing there, or hear his attack on "narrow, preachy, single-issue art in which victim credentials count for more than aesthetic achievement" as in large part coming from a place of privilege. But 20 seconds later he drops a line like "the fact that an artwork's about injustice no more gives it aesthetic status than the fact that it's about mermaids" and your head starts to expand a bit as it grapples. I found his 1993 book about American politics, The Culture of Complaint, similarly exasperating; I hated parts of it and admired others, which I'm sure was the game he was trying to play.

That said, I surely benefited every time I found myself reading him, and dearly loved the way he went after pretense and ignorance so aggressively. He's always worth paying attention to as a way to sharpen your own thoughts about taste, aesthetics, culture, politics "and the rest." I'm excited to dive into that American Visions series. It'll be a blast to discover where we completely disagree.
posted by mediareport at 8:48 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by wrapper at 8:56 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by Sreiny at 8:58 PM on August 6, 2012


The class on Modernism I took my freshman year of college used the book version of Shock of the New extensively. It had a huge impact on me; ironic that one of my most formative and lasting educational experiences at a hard-core science and engineering school was in an art class.

I still clearly remember the description of the Large Glass. I found it fascinating. I just happen to be visiting Philly this week for work. I'll stop off at the Duchamp room of the art museum in Hughes' honor and think about his book while I'm looking at the glass.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:06 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, that first link is a great interview - full of info about his early history, love life, depression, that bizarre 1999 accident and court case...really informative.
posted by mediareport at 9:17 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by Mister Bijou at 9:17 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by frijole at 9:51 PM on August 6, 2012


Uh, mr_roboto, if you went to "a small technical college in Pasadena" and your class was jointly taught with an instructor from the Art Center College of Design, then I took the same class as you. Wild.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:03 PM on August 6, 2012


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Shock of the New, both book and TV, expanded my horizons magnificently. I loved The Fatal Shore, later.

I recall having a hard time squaring his lucid rhapsodies in Shock of the New with the grumpy, disapproving stuff I percieved him writing about contemporary stuff, both art and not. Eventually I realized that his beautiful and profound ability to share the delights of the art he was writing about was deeply conservative, in that his view was fixed firmly on the past. This gave the book's title a certain ironic depth which I have come to appreciate.

Thanks for teaching me things, Bob. I really, really appreciate it.
posted by mwhybark at 10:32 PM on August 6, 2012


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posted by gomichild at 12:46 AM on August 7, 2012


It's rare for an artist to find a critic whose views are strikingly congruent with one's own. Robert Hughes provided that for me, and for that I'll always be grateful.

May he rest in peace.
posted by Hickeystudio at 1:14 AM on August 7, 2012


Very sad to hear this great Australian passed away. RIP.

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posted by bigZLiLk at 1:29 AM on August 7, 2012


The painting of Hughes by Bill Leak at the National Portrait Gallery is one of my favorites. The photograph doesn't do it justice.
posted by bigZLiLk at 1:33 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Fatal Shore jumpstarted a 20-year obsession with history for me. Wonderful book.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:07 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The obituary in The Guardian is rather good. I did not know Hughes revised Shock of the New in 1991, nor did I know he produced a sequel, The New Shock of the New. Hughes would not be surprised (nor displeased I think) to have people discover more of his works posthumously.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:37 AM on August 7, 2012


Uh, mr_roboto, if you went to "a small technical college in Pasadena" and your class was jointly taught with an instructor from the Art Center College of Design, then I took the same class as you.

Yeah, that would be the small technical college in question. I took the class in the fall semester '93.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:01 AM on August 7, 2012


I came to him through the documentary Crumb. I was shocked that someone could give voice to my impressions of art so precisely, and with such apparent ease. Each time I've encountered Hughes since then, it's been the same wonderful discovery.

A much-needed voice gone. Godspeed, and thanks, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:46 AM on August 7, 2012


A huge, huge loss. A voice that will be sorely missed.


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posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on August 7, 2012


The Fatal Shore was a profound journey that enlightened me about the history and identity of my adopted country.

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posted by amusebuche at 5:58 AM on August 7, 2012


It's unfortunate that of all of Hughes' work—much of which I like, some of which I love—what I still think of first when I think of him is his review of The Phantom Menace:
"The only phantom in it is that of Lucas' former talent for actual film-making, gibbering and squeaking among the special effects. It isn't quite down there with the works of Ed Wood, mainly because its extravagant techie resources make that impossible - if you have $115 million to spend on a 150-minute movie, or roughly $13,000 a second, you should be able to give some sheen to the turd."

posted by octobersurprise at 6:19 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by incandissonance at 7:42 AM on August 7, 2012


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There are many passages one could quote from Robert Hughes' splendid prose. Some excellent ones have already been cited in this thread. My favourite has always been this, which remains probably the best description of a Koala bear ever committed to paper:

"These were not the winsome, cuddly teddy bears of the Quantas commercial, but slow, irritable, aldermanic creatures with furry ears and a boot-heel nose, which ate two pounds of fresh gum leaves a day and, when captured, scratched furiously and drenched the offending hand with eucalyptus-scented piss."

A magnificent writer. He will be missed.
posted by lucien_reeve at 9:40 AM on August 7, 2012


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posted by homunculus at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2012


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posted by condesita at 12:05 PM on August 7, 2012


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posted by From Bklyn at 2:11 PM on August 7, 2012




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