Diverse essays from the iconoclastic art critic.
Hickey (25 Women: Essays on Their Art, 2016, etc.), former executive editor of Art in America, returns with more entertaining, surprising, and delightfully written pieces. Framing the collection are two previously unpublished personal pieces, one on the author’s love of surfing Southern California, the other a reflection on his life as a “journeyman artisan in a marginal industry.” The remainder is an eclectic mix. Whether it’s an insightful appreciation of a “genuinely amazing, some kind of rocket science” pop single by the Carpenters, “Goodbye to Love,” that “just blew me away” or journalistic pieces on traveling the campaign trail in post–George W. Bush America with his state senator or a visit to Disney World and the Magic Kingdom, they’re all written in Hickey’s usual witty, sarcastically friendly, and slangy style. He doesn’t just look; he observes. “After the Prom” is an example of his sharp skills at close-reading art—in this case, a Norman Rockwell painting that “opposes the comfortable, suspicious pessimism of the 1950s and proposes, in its place, a tolerance for and faith in the young as the ground-level condition of democracy.” In “The Real Michelangelo,” Hickey discusses the films of Antonioni, who makes “narrative motion pictures that live in experience and memory the way art does.” For Hickey, Robert Mitchum “was the counterculture—a one-man zeitgeist.” Compared to fellow actors Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Ronald Reagan, “he was like a switchblade on a plate of cupcakes.” William Claxton was the “dean of jazz photographers and one of the heroes of my youth,” and Morris Lapidus’ Fontainebleau in Miami Beach was the “first freestanding building designed not just to house commerce but to facilitate it.”
Hickey’s description of a “real book,” an essay collection by Terry Castle, fits his own distinctive book to a T: “piece by piece, everything falls sweetly into place.”