FEATURE Playing His Solo Back in the late fifties and early sixties, there was a magic moment when the University of Texas seemed full of promise. Under the leadership of Harry Ransom, the liberal arts and the libraries were rising to a prominence previously enjoyed only by the engineer ing school and the football team, and suddenly it appeared that the educated world was discovering Austin. During this period roughly bookended by T.S. Eliot reading in Gregory Gym and Norman Mailer performing a bad impersonation of LBJ in the Texas Union about ten years later almost anything seemed possible. And Dave Hickey was the smartest guy on campus. Hickey had grown up in places scattered over Texas, Oklahoma, and California, but his primary roots were in Fort Worth, and he had attended T.C.U., where he brushed shoulders with John Graves and Larry McMurtry. In Austin, Hickey was an early editor of the new student literary journal, Riata, and right away he made his mark, writing remarkably unstudent-like short stories and reviews. His early heroes were the writers John O’Hara and Donald Barthelme, and after a visit to New York in 1964, the pop painters Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol. Dave dropped out of graduate school in 1967 just short of a Ph.D., and he and his wife Mary Ann opened what most people still consider Austin’s best art gallery, A Clean Well-Lighted Place. After a few years happily championing Texas artists and running a small business, the Hickeys moved to New York, where Dave assumed the editorship of Art in America. What happened next is a little vague, but Hickey has written that after some point in New York, he fell into serious drug use and proceeded to live the life of a freelance art writer, rock and roll musician, and country song writer, hanging out at different times with the likes of Terry Allen, Waylon Jennings, and Dave’s musical girlfriend for some years, the six-foot-tall South Carolina rock chanteuse, Marshall Chapman. Through the seventies and eighties there would be Dave sightings frequently reported on his latest piece in an obscure art magazine, or repeated his latest bon mot. There were dark rumors surrounding his return to Fort Worth in the eighties, where he was said to be delivering flowers for his mother’s florist shop. Whatever happened, he was apparently living at home in Fort Worth, and soon began reviewing art for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram daily art writing in Texas never had it so good. Soon Dave and his art critic girlfriend Susan Freudenheim were off to San Diego. In Southern California, her career took off \(she is now art critic for the and A Dave Hickey looking Californian Jack Yon Hickey found new worlds to conquer. He was soon a regular contributor to the Los Angeles journal Art Issues. In 1989, the late Suzanne Comer, then the Assistant Director of the S.M.U. Press, had the fortitude to attempt to put Hickey between the covers of a book. She published his story collection, Prior Convictions, which did little more than bring together his sterling student work from his U.T. days, but it included a new piece, “Proof through the Night,” addressing his abandonment of fiction. Terry Allen did the jacket art and Larry McMurtry did the blurb and that was that. But to Dave’s fans, anything by Hickey between book covers was fine, even if it was twenty-five years old. In the meantime Hickey was more active than ever before in his art writing, and by the beginning of this decade he had become a venerated figure in the world of contemporary art, delivering lectures, curating shows, and sitting on National Endowment for the Arts panels. The typical Hickey appearance in print became an introduction to a museum or gallery catalog, or occasionally a fullfledged lecture published by a university. The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, published in 1994, contained many of his formalized thoughts on art during this period. The book won the prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award and opened up more doors for Hickey, including a series of lectures at Harvard. Then word was that he had a teaching gig at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and that he really liked it there, and his occasional piece that cated that Vegas was where he had found his true home. Now comes Air Guitar a collection of twenty-three of his Art Issues casual pieces and it provides a brilliant reminder of Hickey’s unmistakable voice and of his unique place in Texan and American letters. Dave Hickey on Art, Music, and Democracy BY DICK HOLLAND AIR GUITAR: Essays on Art & Democracy. By Dave Hickey. 215 pages. $17.95. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 JULY 23, 1999
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