Noted for his outspoken commentary and robust personality, world renowned art and culture critic Robert Hughes passed away this month at age 74. Working as a writer, historian, and documentarian throughout his career, Hughes rose to prominence serving as chief art critic at Time magazine. His insightful and accessible 1980 book and BBC television series, Shock of the New, ignited a broader interest in contemporary art and solidified his status as a winsome and outspoken public intellectual. Honest in his critique and fearlessly combative, Hughes tackled big subjects—for example, his candid takedown of just about every aspect of Warhol’s career and legacy, published in the New York Review of Books.
Diligent and frigid, Warhol had both to a striking degree. He was not a “hot” artist, a man mastered by a particular vision and anxious to impose it on the world. Jackson Pollock had declared that he wanted to be Nature. Warhol, by contrast, wished to be Culture and Culture only: “I want to be a machine.” Many of the American artists who rose to fame after abstract expressionism, beginning with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, had worked in commercial art to stay alive, and other pop artists besides Warhol, of course, drew freely on the vast reservoir of American ad-mass imagery. But Warhol was the only one who embodied a culture of promotion as such.
Hughes will be remembered for his ability to communicate taste supported by profound intellect. He made people go look at art – pretty impressive for someone who (in his own words) “actually succeeded in failing first year arts, which any moderately intelligent amoeba could have passed.”