R.I.P. Great Australian Art Critic Robert Hughes

Australia’s most influential and renowned art critic Robert Hughes died yesterday in New York after a long illness.

During his career Hughes wrote about art for The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, and Time Magazine. Later in his career he made a series of television documentaries, including art-focused series “The Shock Of The New” and “Heaven and Hell in Western Art”. He was also the author of several books, the most noted of which is probable The Fatal Shore, an epic historical work about the colonisation and settlement of Australia.

Robert Hughes was a great critic. Unlike the majority of the world’s art writers, Hughes wasn’t slavishly dedicated to the ‘High Art’ ‘high brow’ conceit of that world, and instead chose to write in a manner that made art accessible to a wider audience. Similarly, Hughes was truly critical of the artists and movements that were the focus of his sublimely written appraisals.

He was never an intellectual follower, and refused to be swayed by trends. He fearlessly challenged the status quo of what the greater Art world deemed sexy at the time, like his scathing take down of Damien Hirst in The Guardian.

Of Hirst’s record-breaking 2008 Sotheby’s auction Hughes wrote, “If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people.”

In a 2006 interview with Andrew Denton, Hughes explained, “You can’t be a critic and not have a harsh side, you know, because otherwise you turn out to be a sort of Pollyanna … you know, become this total arsehole who wanders around the world thinking every sprig of clover is a rose.”

R.I.P. Robert Hughes.