Remembering Robert Hughes, the Art Critic Who Took No Prisoners

“Some think that so much of today’s art mir­rors and thus crit­i­cizes deca­dence,” Robert Hugh­es once said; “not so. It’s just deca­dent, full stop. It serves no crit­i­cal func­tion. It is part of the prob­lem.”

Hugh­es died Mon­day at the age of 74. One of the tow­er­ing fig­ures of late 20th cen­tu­ry art crit­i­cism, the Aus­tralian writer is best known for The Shock of the New, his 1980 tele­vi­sion series on the rise and fall of mod­ernism, and the best­selling book of the same name. He wrote at least 15 oth­er wide-rang­ing books on art and his­to­ry. He was an elo­quent writer and a tough crit­ic. “It was decid­ed­ly not Mr. Hugh­es’s method to take pris­on­ers,” writes Randy Kennedy in the New York Times obit­u­ary. “He was as damn­ing about artists who fell short of his expec­ta­tions as he was ecsta­t­ic about those who met them, and his prose seemed to reach only lofti­er heights when he was angry.”

Per­haps noth­ing made Hugh­es more angry than the per­ni­cious influ­ence of mon­ey on art in the past few decades. In the scene above from the 2008 BBC doc­u­men­tary The Mona Lisa Curse, Hugh­es pays a vis­it to Alber­to Mugra­bi, whose wealthy fam­i­ly makes no secret of its efforts to manip­u­late the art mar­ket by buy­ing up large num­bers of works by cer­tain artists (often those whom Hugh­es despised, like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst) and stor­ing them in ware­hous­es. What fol­lows is less of an inter­view than a brow­beat­ing. When it’s over and Hugh­es has left the room, Mugra­bi says, “He’s a tough cook­ie.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Robert Hugh­es, Famed Art Crit­ic, Demys­ti­fies Mod­ern Art


by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.