The ghosts that talk: Robert Hughes and Gore Vidal
One of the great treasures of the ABC, which for me has moved from the periphery towards the centre of my screen, is iView, their online catchup webcaster. Currently there are two things worth some time. One is a repeat of Robert Hughes’ television swansong, the fully personalised and superb The Mona Lisa Curse, which won the Grierson doco award (2008) and the International Emmy (2009). Expires in 12 days as of 14.08.12, here.
What did we lose with the departure of Hughes? This kind of frontally bracing astringency: In the Curse, in front of The Virgin Mother by Damien Hirst:
“Isn’t it a miracle what so much money and so little ability can produce? Just extraordinary…When I look at a thing like this I realise that so much of art, not all of it thank god, but a lot of it, has just become a kind of cruddy game for the self-aggrandisement of the rich and the ignorant.”
And here is a little clip of him giving that whiplash, and then going up to interrogate the collector, Mr Mugrabi where, without unnecessary cruelty, Hughes suggests that he should have grave doubts where his collecting millions have ended up, lightly trashing Andy Warhol along the way.
Mugrabi: …that’s a great thing in collecting.
RH: What, that it buys you immortality, you mean?
RH: Huh huh huhhuh huh. Slowly chortling.
If you agree with Hughes’ essentially conservative — ie, neither reactionary, nor toadying to the New — view of art (and I mostly do), you’ll find Hughes’ statements about value and meaning in the work of art tremendously invigorating, and reassuring. (Even as the centre no longer holds and, indeed, ala Gertrude Stein, now there is no longer a centre at the centre.)
(There is also an entertaining and revealing interview with Andrew Denton on the site, for another 8 days: AD: What does Death look like? RH: Like a banker.)
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On the same Arts and Culture page, you’ll find an ABC Monday Conference from 1974 featuring Gore Vidal, rather like a prototype of Q&A. It’s fascinating to see Vidal, 40 years ago, making some mistakes — the near future carastrophe of overpopulation — but with his suave cynicism, cosmopolitan urbanity and political views fully formed — it’s a stylish performance. His excoriation of American politics as a shell game of the superrich and corporations may have been true back then (he once said that the US had only one party: the right wing of the Capitalist party, and the left wing of the Capitalist party) — he cites George Washington as the first millionaire president — but has taken on prophetic force since the Citizens United judgement.
Also fun is watching a young Dennis Altman, politics professor, gay scholar and activist, taking Gore’s full measure; and the young Bill Peach as the host — everyone was young!
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