Robert Hughes (1938–2012) was an art critic and television writer. In the award-winning documentary series, The Shock of The New, Hughes recounted the development of modern art since the Impressionists; in The Fatal Shore, he explored the history of his native Australia. Hughes’s memoir, Things I Didn’t Know, was published in 2006.

My Friend Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg: Retroactive I, 1963

Rauschenberg’s references to other media aren’t just tricks. They’re an integral part of the way he connects the language of his images to that of a wider world. Around 1962, Rauschenberg began to use not things but the images of things. By reusing silk-screened images from one painting to the next, it let him use repetition and counterpoint across a series of works in a way that wasn’t possible, or not easily possible, if he had been using things themselves. In doing this, he was adapting to the great central fact of American communication, its takeover by the imagery of television.

Master Builders

Competent critics of architecture are not thick on the ground, and first-rate ones even rarer than first-rate writers of any kind. The world, or perhaps one should say the tiny globe, or better yet the ping-pong ball, of architectural criticism is close and restricted, and once you have subtracted the …

The God of Realism

He came from the lower middle class of Holland. His father, Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn (circa 1568– 1630), owned a half-share in a flour mill in Leiden, and his mother, Cornelia van Zuytbrouk (1568–1640), was a baker’s daughter. He was the second-youngest of ten children, and although big families were …

Why Watch It, Anyway?

TV favors a mentality in which certain things no longer matter particularly: skills like the ability to enjoy a complex argument, for instance, or to perceive nuances, or to keep in mind large amounts of significant information, or to remember today what someone said last month, or to consider strong and carefully argued opinions in defiance of what is conventionally called “balance.” Its content lurches between violence of action, emotional hyperbole, and blandness of opinion. And it never, ever stops.

The Medium Inquisitor

A phrase that has long echoed in discussions of American art was “as Clem Greenberg said,…” but the difficulty, until now, has been to know what that was. Clement Greenberg, for a slew of reasons, was the most influential art critic in American history. (He is still alive at eighty-four, …

Masterpiece Theater

No other museum director in American history has had as much written about him as Thomas P.F. Hoving, who ran the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for ten years (1967–1977). The striking thing is how much of it he has written himself. Memoirs by American museum men are …

Art, Morals, and Politics

I mean to ramble over matters of art and morality, censorship, politics, and public institutions. And to make things worse I am going to start with an event which is certainly emblematic, but which you may have heard altogether too much about already—namely, the scandal over Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs a …

The Art of Frank Auerbach

Frank Auerbach is one of the most admired artists working in England today. Perhaps if his career says anything about “the art world,” it confirms its irrelevance to an artist’s growth. Auerbach entered a London art school forty years ago, as a teen-ager. Since then he has done nothing but …

The Liberal Goya

I think most of us would agree that the Goya exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is the most powerful show in town. We can say this even though it doesn’t give us the whole Goya. We can feel it because he speaks to us with an urgency that no artist …

The Patron Saint of Neo-Pop

For seventy years after its revolution, since French writers viewed America with hope and English ones with disgruntlement, some of the best observations on America were made by the French and most of the worst by the English. Eighteenth-century French visitors to America saw a self-emancipated people united in the …

On Lucian Freud

The first painting by a living British artist that I can remember seeing—not just “noticing”—was by Lucian Freud, hanging in the Tate Gallery more than twenty-five years ago. It was his 1952 portrait of Francis Bacon (see illustration this page). A small picture, about the size of a shorthand note …

Something Fishy in the Hamptons

“A jerk on one end of the line, waiting for a jerk on the other.” The literature of American fishing is large but not, on the whole, distinguished. It has three chief modes: the reflective-pastoral, the heroic, the technical. The reflective-pastoral descends from the ancient line of Izaak Walton, and …

On Art and Money

The twin figures of the art impresario and the art star, performing for a large audience, have been with us since the eighteenth century. It was in Georgian times that dealers started to matter—emerging as people who exerted a real force on taste, as distinct from mere anti-quarians serving the …

There’s No Geist like the Zeitgeist

The exhibition called “Zeitgeist,”[^1] which generated such heat and smoke in Berlin a year ago, still lingers in the mind as an event—even though the promised English version of its catalog has not yet materialized. It was a huge show in an overwhelming setting, a bombscarred and partially restored palazzo …

The Rise of Andy Warhol

To say that Andy Warhol is a famous artist is to utter the merest commonplace. But what kind of fame does he enjoy? If the most famous artist in America is Andrew Wyeth, and the second most famous is LeRoy Neiman (Hugh Hefner’s court painter, inventor of the Playboy femlin, …

Only in America

“If small, lithe tigers could speak, they would have the voice and intelligence of this feline Pole. He has velvet paws and killer talons of steel. He’s let his beard grow to cover up the fact that he is only half a man. His eyes are blue, the better to deceive…. His ambition, which is consuming, is to be recognized as the world’s greatest expert on the Italian primitives; and he achieved his goal about three years ago. He is a dying man, but he’ll go on for a long, long time. He doesn’t do business or accept commissions, but he shares in the profits. ‘Here are 25,000 francs, M. Berenson.’ ‘Merci, Gimpel.”‘

This entry from the 1918 diary of the art dealer René Gimpel is the best thumbnail sketch of Bernard Berenson yet written.

Blue Chip Sublime

On the morning of February 25, 1970, Mark Rothko’s body was found in his studio in New York. He had done a thorough job of killing himself the night before, like Seneca but without the bath; first gulping down an overdose of barbiturates and then hacking through his elbow veins …