Straight outta Santa Fe: Dave Hickey is (sorta) returning


Dave Hickey in action at The Smith Center a few years ago, in a talk about the work of Nevada artist Michael Heizer.

Dave Hickey and Libby Lumpkin are a few hours outside of Orlando, Florida, heading west to their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when they stop for a break. Hickey can't fly because of his health, and while in Miami, he'd ended up in the hospital with an aneurism in his chest, leading to an unexpected five-day stay. 
"I feel like shit, of course, but I'm not dead," he says, while his wife Libby, an art history professor at the University of New Mexico, runs inside for a minute. 

It's an important clarification, given that a few minutes earlier he'd said he'd only be coming back to teach in Las Vegas this fall if he lives that long. 

Rest assured, he plans to. The art and cultural critic who taught in UNLV's MFA program during the '90s is scheduled to return as a visiting professor for the fall semester, when he'll teach a writing class, an art class and give a couple of public lectures. (Art department sources were unavailable for comment; we'll update this post when we hear more.)

"I'm not doing anything, and they don't like me much in Santa Fe," he says, as to why, at age 76 and with health problems going back a few years, he's returning to UNLV. "I like Vegas. I like to be able to stop and get a sandwich whenever I want."

The Texas-born and famously intelligent curmudgeon, known for stirring up the art world with his outspoken attitude and controversies (one of them being his book The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, which advocated a return to beauty in art, sending spears into the eyes of art critics everywhere, who scrambled to rebut his gall), is a fan of the Las Vegas lifestyle. 

After winning a 2001 MacArthur Fellowship, the "genius grant," and frustrated with UNLV's internal politics, Hickey and Lumpkin (the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art's first curator) headed to California, returning in 2005, with Hickey teaching in UNLV's English department and Lumpkin taking over the Las Vegas Art Museum as executive director. They left again in 2010, when Lumpkin accepted a full-tenure position in New Mexico, and Hickey hasn't been quiet about his disinterest in the community there. 

But he's kept busy. His next book, Perfect Wave: More Essays on Art & Democracy, the follow-up to his memoir-heavy classic, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, comes out in November, when he'll be in Las Vegas. His 25 Women: Essays on their Art was published last year, as were collections detailing his experience with Facebook, Wasted Words: The Essential Dave Hickey Online Compilation and Dust Bunnies: Dave Hickey’s Online Aphorisms.

Twice the Contemporary Art Center brought him into town in recent years, once for the release of his new books, once for a discussion of Michael Heizer's monumental desert sculpture City. 

As for an autobiography? "It's not coming along so fast," he says. "I've had a lot of health problems the last two or three years. And I've had cultural problems with Santa Fe."

In addition to his health problems, he's had a few near misses, including a recent golf cart accident (he was driving) on the beach in Captiva, Florida, that knocked him out for eight hours. But he thinks he'll make it to fall to teach at UNLV — if first he can just get back home.

"Do you know how far it is from Miami to Santa Fe?" he asks. "It's real f*ing far."

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