Robert Hughes (critic)

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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes AO, (born July 28, 1938), who is usually known as Robert Hughes, is an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker.

Hughes lives in New York with his wife, the American artist Doris Downes. Hughes comes from a well-connected Australian family — his older brother Tom Hughes is an Australian lawyer and former federal Attorney-General. His niece Lucy Turnbull (Tom's daughter), a former Lord Mayor of Sydney, is married to Australian businesman and politician Malcolm Turnbull.

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[edit] Early life

Hughes was born in Sydney and was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and architecture at the University of Sydney in 1956.

During his time at university, Hughes made a name for himself within the Sydney "Push" — a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the group were at least two other cultural observers: Germaine Greer and Clive James. Hughes left university before graduating, after being commissioned to write a history of Australian painting, The Art of Australia, while still an undergraduate. It was published in 1966. Hughes was also briefly involved in the original Sydney version of Oz magazine and he also wrote art criticism for The Nation and The Sunday Mirror .

[edit] Career

Hughes left Australia for London, England in 1965, where he wrote for such publications as The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Observer, and contributed to the London version of Oz. In 1970 he obtained the position of art critic for TIME magazine and he moved to New York. He quickly established himself in the U.S. as an influential art critic.

Hughes and Harold Hayes were recruited in 1978 to anchor the new ABC News (US) newsmagazine 20/20. His only broadcast, on June 6, 1978, proved so disastrous that, less than a week later, ABC News president Roone Arledge dumped him and Hayes and replaced them with veteran TV host Hugh Downs.

In 1980 the BBC broadcast The Shock Of The New, Hughes's television series on the development of modern art since the Impressionists. It was accompanied by a book of the same name. Its combination of insight, wit, and accessibility are still widely praised.

In 1987 The Fatal Shore, his study of the British convict settlements in Australia, became an international best-seller.

In 1988, he attracted controversy for criticising an exhibition of neo-expressionist painter Julian Schnabel. At the time it was widely accepted that critics had a supine relationship with galleries and artists, and Hughes's attack greatly affected Schnabel's reputation.

Since leaving Australia Hughes has had only occasional contact with his homeland. During the 1990s, however, he was a prominent supporter of the Australian Republican Movement.

His television series American Visions (1997) reviewed the history of American art since the Revolution. He was again dismissive of recent art; this time sculptor Jeff Koons was subjected to scathing criticism. Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore (2000) was a series musing on modern Australia and Hughes's relationship with it. During the series's production, Hughes was involved in a near-fatal road accident detailed in the next section.

In 2002, Goya: Crazy Like a Genius was made by the BBC, and used on the first night of the corporation's domestic digital service, in part as a consequence of the high status Hughes' documentaries have acquired with television audiences over the years.

[edit] Road accident and subsequent events

On May 28, 1999, during a brief return to Australia, Hughes was seriously injured in a vehicle accident near Broome, Western Australia. After a day out fishing, Hughes had been driving alone when his hired Nissan Pulsar N15 collided head on with a Holden Commodore. Hughes's right leg was broken in five places and his right elbow was shattered. He was airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital, was in a coma for several weeks and later claimed no memory of the crash. Three men were travelling in the other car, one of whom was injured; they stated that Hughes was driving on the wrong side of the road (the right hand side, since road traffic in Australia travels on the left).

In 2000, Hughes was acquitted of two counts of dangerous driving by Broome magistrate Antoine Bloemen. Hughes did not give evidence and his defence was technical, in that the prosecution could not rule out the possibility of a mechanical failure causing the car to veer over the centre line. However, the charges were reinstated and upgraded by the Western Australian (WA) Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Robert Cock QC. Following allegations that two men from the other vehicle had attempted to blackmail Hughes, they were not called to give evidence, and Hughes was acquitted. Hughes was later sued for defamation by Cock and his assistant, Lloyd Rayney. Further controversy arose when it was alleged that Hughes had made a racist remark about Rayney, an Asian Australian.

The WA Crown Solicitor appealed Hughes's acquittal on the driving charges. In 2003, Hughes pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm. He was fined A$2,500 and was banned from driving in WA for three years.

Family tragedy visited Hughes in April 2002 when his sculptor son (from his first marriage, to Danne Patricia Emerson) Danton Hughes, aged 34, committed suicide in Australia. His former wife died of a brain tumour in 2003 at the age of sixty. "She was enormously fat from the aftermath of a prolonged cocaine addiction from which her lesbian girlfriend had struggled, on the whole successfully, to free her," Hughes wrote in The Sunday Times (London) on 20th August 2006. "I do not miss Danne at all."

Hughes has continued to write for TIME, although his contributions became less frequent after his accident.

In 2002, artist Danius Kesminas unveiled — as part of the Perth International Arts Festival — the compacted remains of the car in which Hughes had his accident. The work is titled Post-Traumatic Origami, and is part of an exhibition called Hughbris, which has since been relocated to the Darren Knight Gallery, in Sydney.

In 2006 he published Things I Didn’t Know: A Memoir[1].

[edit] Honours

As a reviewer, Hughes is the only art critic to twice win America's most coveted award for art criticism (in 1982 and 1985), the Frank Jewett Mather Award, given by the College Art Association of America.

In 1988 Hughes was named recipient of the American Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award.

[edit] Publications (alphabetical order)

[edit] Quotations

  • Assessing Barnett Newman's 'Stations of the Cross' on 'American Visions':

Barnett Newman once said, 'I thought our quarrel was with Michelangelo.' Well, bad luck, Barney. You lost.

  • On Canadian Art

People don't show it in America, for Christ's sake. How am I supposed to know about Canadian art living in America?

[edit] Reference

On Hughes's early career in Sydney see

  • Heathcote, Christopher (1995). A Quiet Revolution: The Rise of Australian Art, 1946-1968. Melbourne, Vic: Text Publishing, 267. ISBN 1875847103.

[edit] External links


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Robert Hughes (critic)

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