*This is the first of two writings exploring art critic Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar. The 1997 classic book contains twenty-three essays. From a music critic and art dealer’s perspective, the “fables” investigate the relationship between Art and Democracy. The past provides insights for the future.
A cold and rainy Monday provided the perfect opportunity to revisit Air Guitar. The book houses twenty-three essays investigating Art and Democracy. Current political events question news, bias, and truth. The author, art critic, and dealer Dave Hickey has written for Artforum, Rolling Stone, and Art News to name a few. Could the 1997 book share some insights for a 2018 audience?
In Hickey’s Unbreak My Heart, An Overture essay: “This book is an apology for that sort of authoritarian behavior, because, in truth, I have never taken anything printed in a book to heart that was not somehow confirmed in my ordinary experience-and that did not, to some extent, reform and redeem that experience.” Air Guitar debates the daily function of art within personal experience. Hickey explores art’s why, his love for democracy, and how culture is more than money.
Hickey brilliantly describes the commodification of art in The Birth of the Big, Beautiful Art Market: “If we had thought about it from the perspective of old car freaks, however, we would have known and surely could have predicted that the General Motors of the art world-the museums and universities-would ultimately seek to alleviate their post-market status and control the means of production.”
He touches on the idea of art and education as speculative products. As a female artist, I’ve encountered this reality. Bottom line: artists stuck in student loan quicksand produce more work than available buyers. Forgiveness rings hollow in today’s logic.
The Birth of the Big, Beautiful Art Market declares: “So this is my idea: The historical confluence of accident, insight, commerce, and iconography in postwar America created the nineteen sixties as America’s transcendent Mediterranean moment-gave birth to the big, beautiful art market as the embodied discourse of democratic values that partook, in equal parts, of the Eucharist and the stock exchange.”
An ancient memory of a New York Art Fair client comes to mind. A couple was interested in my art and the husband wanted to talk privately. The man firmly stressed that by purchasing my work: “It better go up in value and I want to make a good return.” As a young artist, the bubble of purchasing art for personal enjoyment or growth had burst.
This reality fell outside my naïve conceptual definition and identity as an artist.
Democracy is bought and paid for just like art. Imagine an idealistic world where money had no intrinsic value in government and creativity. In 1997, I was only twenty-three-years-old (or essays) idealistic of the future and its possibilities. Today, I stubbornly refuse to surrender on parts of that dream. Freedom of expression sparks positive change when history calls…