Watching a video of another ridiculous lecture by Dave Hickey at SVA, one is not surprised to see that the bulbous phony is still up to his old tricks. Hickey is a guy who tickles his audience with hoary signifiers, constantly preens his own self-regard and takes an obvious theme, that is also false, and gently beats it to death.
In his current dispensation, he begins by making a joke about not turning off his iPod during the lecture so he can listen to T-Rex. Well, people just love to cite Mark Bolan's band as a lost reservoir of genius, and Hickey's audience giggles in recognition. A less pretentious sophisticate might have referenced Nazz or the Flamin' Groovies. Then Hick the Dick compares his hair to Einstein and refers to the with-it philosophe Peter Lanborn Wilson by his nickname "Tim" and wonders if people are happier in Bhutan "when Uma Thurman's father is there."
This is not insight. This is the same kind of vulgar vanity by association that one gets when opening the current issue of W to see a number of good contemporary artworks being debased by an Inez van Lamsweerde fashion shoot. Must the art world constantly be advertising its general lack of curiosity by slumming to the dumbest and most obvious signifiers in the wider culture? Dave Hickey is most comfortable with that status quo because he has fashioned a career out of his own intellectual laziness interfacing with the naiveté of his student audiences.
Hickey then offers a thesis about "ennui," aka "boredom," a juicy arrival of his own methods from his subconscious. You know, "Why actually think, when you can vamp?" Hickey then does what he does best, present a false assumption, that "the middle of America, between New York and Los Angeles, is content, like Garrison Keillor's Prairie." Gee, has not Mr. Lazy been following the health care town hall meetings on the news all summer? Quite content, indeed. What an astute observer is the Vegas carney.
Going into full pander, Hickey then massages the elitist self-understanding of his groupies by saying that art is a way for these enlightened souls to help the rest of us retards confront our anxieties, which he calls, stupidly echoing Blake, "the tiger," as if he, Hickey, was the first to conjure this blazingly original metaphor. Methinks that the only tiger the Hick has encountered is a rare white one during a group grope at Siegfried and Roy's Vegas manse.
Hickey's contempt for the American "ordinary" belies the fact that the great American art, whether it is Pollock, Kerouac, Chrissie Hynde or Count Basie, arises from the plains, the factories and the prairies, as an affirmation of the people at its source. It gives voice to their concerns and, especially in America, it is driven out of the pink houses into the dirty streets by folks who will never experience a content moment in their lives. Hickey should throw the ball off his nose and croak back into the pool.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).