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Robert Hughes Dies Aged 74
Laurie Tuffrey , August 8th, 2012 08:43

Renowned Time magazine art critic passes away in New York

Earlier this week, the Australian art critic, historian and broadcaster Robert Hughes died aged 74, leaving behind a singular, brilliant critical legacy.

The writer died on Tuesday in hospital in the Bronx in his adopted hometown of New York, where he had lived since 1970.

A prolific author, Hughes produced such essential works as The Shock of the New, the TV series and book that cast an eye over modern art, and his social history of Australia The Fatal Shore.

Hughes grew up in Sydney, and, after an unspectacular university career - "I actually succeeded in failing first year arts, which any moderately intelligent amoeba could have passed" - went travelling in Europe, eventually settling in London, where he wrote art criticism for The Sunday Times. He then moved to America after being picked up by Time magazine, who he would write for for the next thirty years.

He produced The Shock of the New in 1980, which, with its iconic pronouncements on Van Gogh, Pollock and Picasso, would go on to have such standing that the book was republished in 1991.

His next great work, The Fatal Shore from 1987, was the result of Hughes trying to tackle the subject of Australia’s cultural origins and finding no book that told the story of its early settlers. The book, originally titled ‘Kangaroots’, had its genesis in the accounts of the convicts brought over to the country in the 19th-century that Hughes found in a public records office, and was duly honoured with literary awards upon publication.

His later works were no less ambitious in scope, tackling, for example, the history of American art in 1998’s American Visions, and his final book, last year’s Rome, found Hughes offering a paean to his literary heroes. Hughes was also a tireless critic of the increasing marketisation he saw in the art world, decrying "what strip mining is to nature the art market has become to culture” and citing Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst as unimaginative moneymakers.

With his outspoken critical tone, which eschewed academic jargon in favour of resounding clear-sightedness, came countless quotes, among them "the greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize" and “an ideal museum show would be a mating of Brideshead Revisited with House & Garden, provoking intense and pleasurable nostalgia for a past that none of its audience has had", economic and eloquent expressions of a great writer.

RIP Robert Hughes.

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