|Robert Hughes (1938-2012)|
From the fractured political and social relationships between Blacks and Jews, to the conservative attack on free speech and arts funding (remember Jesse Helms and his vociferous crusade against the National Endowment for the Arts), as well as the Left's and feminists' attempts to police language and thought, the Australian-born Hughes delivered what could be termed a book-length sermon on how sad and frustrated he was about what was happening to his beloved adopted country. He described “a hollowness at the cultural core" of American life, and a "pervasive sense of entropy" within. The polity, he wrote, has become "obsessed with therapies and filled with distrust of formal politics; skeptical of authority and prey to superstition; its political language corroded by fake pity and euphemism." Has any of that changed since 1993? The anti-big government bandwagon the Tea party has jumped on, the 9/11 conspiracy theories, and their automatic assumption that the U.S. government lied about that tragic day, and even Republican Todd Akin’s recent anti-woman statements about ‘legitimate rape’ all tie into the Hughes’ still relevant arguments of that time. And you need look no further than the Right's continued disparagement of the so-called ‘liberal media’ – or ‘lamestream media’ as noted 'intellectual’ Sarah Palin likes to call it – not to mention the constant questioning of Barack Obama’s legitimacy as an American, to see how corroded the country’s political language still is, even if the specific incidents of political correctness of the day have changed and, perhaps ameliorated in certain ways. (The book, sadly, is now out of print, likely because it’s been deemed to be dated. It’s not.)
|"Balloon Dog," Jeff Koons, 1994. High chromium stainless steel.|
A 1999 near-fatal automobile accident in Australia seemed to affect him physically. Though he still wrote books afterwards, he stopped reviewing for TIME, which he’d been doing since 1970, but, as a gesture of the deep respect the magazine had for him he was never formally removed from their masthead – so I lost touch with what he thought about current art and artistic trends. But I also kept hoping he’d return to the pages of the weekly magazine so I could absorb what he wrote and utilize it when I went to see exhibits, like the recent fine Picasso one at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario and an interesting Van Gogh exhibit (concentrating on his last four years painting in France) in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada. I would have loved to read his takes on those shows and many others, besides. Exciting, gripping and smart critics like Hughes seldom appear in the popular press, much less reach as many readers as he managed to do, so his loss is a key one. Rest in peace, Robert. We won’t soon see your likes again.