Robert Hughes has died, aged 74
Pugnacious art critic, best-selling historian and aspiring artist as a young man
By Donald Lee. Web only
Published online: 07 August 2012
Robert Hughes, the Australian art historian and critic, died on 6 August, aged 74. He was born and educated in Sydney and left the country in 1964. He eventually became the chief art critic of Time magazine, living for many years in New York, and frequently appearing on television. In 1980, he created the acclaimed eight-part documentary series “The Shock of the New” and, in 1997, “American Visions”, respectively histories of modernism and art in the US; his book, The Fatal Shore, 1987, gave an account of Australia's early history. Hughes was often acidic and pugnacious in his reviews and articles, especially about some contemporary art, and his abusive attack in 1999 on those who were involved in a car accident in which he was seriously injured badly dented his reputation. He published the first volume of his memoirs, Things I Didn’t Know, in 2006.
As a young man he aspired to be an artist, declaring that "painting is my whole life—there is nothing else". His first solo show was in Sydney in 1961 and he also exhibited alongside many of Australia’s leading artists. But not everyone felt Hughes was God’s gift to painting. Patricia Anderson, in her unauthorised biography Robert Hughes: the Australian Years, included this blunt critique: “As a painter he is a phoney among phonies,” the writer Judah Waten said in a letter to the artist Noel Counihan in 1965.
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