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Dave Hickey is an art critic and book reviewer. ‘Air Guitar’, dies

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Dave Hickey, a prominent American art critic whose essays covered topics ranging from Siegfried & Roy to Norman Rockwell, has died.

His books include “The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty”(1993) “Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy”(1997), won him legions more fans than art world experts.

His stylish prose, harsh criticism of taste-making institutions like universities and museums, and equal embrace of works that are considered high- or low-brow had a lasting effect on a generation.

“There is no one like him. He belongs in the canon of American nonfiction prose,”His biographer Daniel Oppenheimer wrote the following: “Far From Respectable: Dave Hickey and His Art,” published last June.

After years of heart disease, he died at home in Santa Fe on Nov. 12, according to Libby Lumpkin (an art historian who was married with him). He was 82.

David Hickey was created in Fort Worth, Texas in 1938. He grew up in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and has lived in Texas, Louisiana, California, and Texas since then. After trying to get into graduate school, he decided to drop out and open an art gallery in Austin, Texas. He moved to New York in 1971 and ran more galleries, edited Art in America magazine, and wrote for Rolling Stone magazine and the Village Voice. His interests and work immersed him in an artistic community which included Andy Warhol and Dennis Hopper.

Dave Hickey, an art critic, has often defended Las Vegas’ gambling culture and lifestyle.John Sciulli/Getty Images: Art Los Angeles Contemporary

Hickey later moved to Las Vegas in order to teach at the University of Las Vegas. In the essays published in “Air Guitar”When he spoke about how art should fit into wider culture, he favored Las Vegas because of its independence from traditional social hierarchies.

America “is a very poor lens through which to view Las Vegas, while Las Vegas is a wonderful lens through which to view America. What is hidden elsewhere exists here in quotidian visibility,”He wrote.

Hickey challenged the idea that the Strip’s neon lights were somehow inauthentic, pushed back against notions that Las Vegas entertainment was culturally irrelevant and “especially enjoyed a good smoke and gambling spree at Eureka Casino on East Sahara Avenue, where he was often spotted with a cigarette while jabbing at slot machine buttons,”According to a Las Vegas Review-Journal notice.

Dave Hickey (left) and Peter Schjeldahl (right) in May 2008. Libby Lumpkin via

In “The Invisible Dragon” and later works, Hickey’s endorsement of “beauty” as the ultimate arbiter of artistic value ignited a clash with his contemporaries focused on 20th century conceptual art’s theory and meaning, who preferred to deconstruct the reasons why people find things to be beautiful.

“He chooses to overlook the view that beauty may be merely what the ruling economic and social elites say it is. In the process, his adversaries argue, he substitutes his own bad-boy outsider judgments for those of narrow-minded art professionals,”The New York Times wrote a 1999 profile on Hickey.

Lumpkin stated that her husband did not intend to champion traditionalism like his critics claimed.

“A lot of Dave’s work was misinterpreted. The assumption was made that the beauty he was talking about was something very old fashioned, but he was a supporter of very conceptual artists from the beginning,”She spoke.

Dave Hickey (right), spent his last years as a professor at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Denise Truscello/WireImage

His tastes were eclectic. He praised artists and figures from popular culture, from Norman Rockwell to Robert Mapplethorpe up to Ellsworth Kelly. His essays included Julius Erving as a basketball player and reruns of television series. “Perry Mason,”Country music is illegal.

In 2001, the MacArthur Foundation gave him a “genius”His body of work was awarded a grant. He was inducted into Nevada Writers Hall of Fame 2003 and received a Peabody Award 2006 for a documentary on Andy Warhol.

Lumpkin and Hickey moved to Santa Fe in 2010, and both accepted positions at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Lumpkin stated that Hickey considered teaching to be his most important work.

“He was a real intellectual without being a snob and he trusted his students to be able to think theoretically. When you put your trust in students like that, they get it and they make good art,”Lumpkin said.

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