Macho Man

ID_IC_MEIS_HUGHE_AP_001Morgan Meis on Robert Hughes, in The Smart Set:

Robert Hughes was macho. It is hard to point to any one thing that proves this assertion. He was just macho. He knew how to project authority and swagger. He would say tough guy things like, “What strip mining is to nature the art market has become to culture.” That is the primary reason he was always being compared to Clement Greenberg. Greenberg had that macho swagger too. Maybe it was the macho that allowed both Greenberg and Hughes to make such bold judgments about art, to proclaim what is good and what is bad. The macho was the antidote to the fear. It is inherently scary to be exposed to your fellow human being and Hughes, like Greenberg before him, exposed himself again and again. Before his death last week, Hughes had been the art critic for Time Magazine for three decades. He is one of the few individuals of this era whose opinions on art were actually being read and considered by millions of people. The macho was a tool, a weapon in his arsenal. In this, he had learned a lot from reading Clement Greenberg.

For all the stylistic similarities between Hughes and Greenberg, Hughes was never (unlike, say, Michael Fried) a true Greenbergian. In an essay for the New York Review of Books in 1993, Hughes argued that, “There is little doubt that Greenberg’s version of modernism has had its day. Not only because of the victories of what he dismissed as 'novelty art'—Pop, Minimalism, and mediabased imagery of all kinds; but, more importantly, because of the limitations of his positivist world view, based on a truculent materialism.” Hughes' critique of Greenberg was neither unique nor novel. Many artists and critics have come to realize that Greenberg's “formalism” was defined too narrowly, thus allowing contemporary art very little room to grow. But Hughes' essay from 1993 is notable in how directly he ties this critique of Greenberg into an analysis of Greenberg's youthful Marxism and its latent influence on his underlying conception of history. Hughes put it like this: “The experience of Marxism gave Greenberg his bent as a critic: an obsession with the direction of history.”