When Dave Hickey, art critic and former UNLV professor, took to social media by opening a Facebook account, plenty were itching to dig in. After all, this is a guy who stirs things up. One statement from his cigarette-bearing lips can get the community talking, debating, lamenting or celebrating.
But rather than pounding out only lengthy diatribes and hit quips on Maria Abramović (“a first-rate idiot”), graduate MFA programs and today’s art market, Hickey is also professorial, offering ideas on the pace of studio work and returning to teaching mode by challenging artists to “make or paint a work of art that contained everything they hated about art” and see what came of it.
In January, PCP Press published two books of the online experience—3,000 comments and 700,000 responses between June 2014 and March 2015, compiled and edited by Julia Friedman. Readers interested in useful dialogue or Hickey’s pop culture-fueled witticisms (“Don’t let this get around, but Björk is a Hobbit”) will find gold in Wasted Words: The Essential Dave Hickey Online Compilation and Dust Bunnies: Dave Hickey’s Online Aphorisms.
What inspired you to sign up for Facebook? I was really sick and kind of bedridden and I couldn’t write long things on my lap, but I could write Facebook on my lap. And I wanted to see if it was as bad as I thought it was, and it was. But it wasn’t that bad. I ended up with some very nice friends on my wall.
How would you characterize the experience? It was interesting. I have nothing in common with children today.
Why is that? I’m a literary person and know about books and music and art and things like that. They don’t know anything about anything but Jamba Juice and pizza. So you’re not dealing with the top skim off the bucket here. But I had a good time and I tried to keep things serious and I just thought it would be fun. Also I was kind of trolling for work. I got some work, some lecture gigs, nothing too romantic. The fact is that Facebook is still a dating site. It’s all about who likes who.
I heard you were a bit frustrated with some of the dialogue. My idea was that I would compose intellectual propositions and they would respond with propositions of their own. All they did was jokes. They would only do jokes. If I wanted to I could start an entire thread on the GEICO gecko and it would go on for 150 pages.
It’s like the Aristocrats—that joke. This is like the whole setup for the Aristocrats without the punchline. There’s never any payoff. You just get to think of funny things to say, ultimately.
Why put such Facebook discussions into a book? Julia wanted to do them and I thought, "What the hell, I can always use another book." They’re sort of semi-pirated. I didn’t look at them or anything. I sent her the whole file. She didn’t change anything, and I was thinking about Andy Warhol’s book, A, in which they didn’t make any typo corrections or spelling corrections and that seemed right to me.
Did the experience have any personal value for you? I do have a few notes from people that said I had helped them with their work, so that's good.
The cover of Wasted Words features you sitting poolside with a bunch of young women. Is there a story behind that? That was at the Rauschenberg retreat down in Captiva. They were all swimming, and I was sitting down to talk to them. I enjoyed the thing at Captiva except I almost killed myself. I drove the golf cart on the beach and it flipped me over and knocked me out for eight hours.
What?! I was driving the golf cart on the beach where you’re not supposed to be driving the golf cart. That was like an invitation for me. I was found about 100 yards into the jungle covered with dirt. So it was pretty exciting. It was such a beautiful day; it would have been a good day to die. I’m not clinging onto every breath.
You’re ready? If you showed me two doors, one said “sweet oblivion” and the other one said "20 more years in Santa Fe," I would take sweet oblivion. You know what I mean?
Talk about your other new book, 25 Women: Essays on Their Art. There’s not many books like it out there that are really serious criticism about women’s art. There’s lots of journalism about women and women’s art. I just wanted to do it. I thought the essays were good. All the essays were written for exhibition catalogues. It’s good. It's like real prose.
Response from female artists about the book? I got a lot of "how dare you" notes. They were all really upset that I never talked about the woman’s identity, and that’s not my job because I’m not a sociologist. The women in my book have nothing in common, and I don’t know about their identity because I’m not clairvoyant. I have 25 women I thought we should pay attention to, and I put them all together in a book.
What’s next? I have a lot of things going. I have a kind of autobiography. I have book on Gary Trudeau that I’m trying to get into production. I have half a mystery novel.
Autobiography? Something similar to Air Guitar and it’s autobiographical elements? It would be Air Guitar upside down, which in my essays I use my life to support what I think about the art, and in this one I would be using the art to support what I think about my life.
You staying on Facebook? I’m selling a book about Facebook, so I ought to be there, I think.