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Far From Respectable

Far From Respectable
Dave Hickey and His Art

The first book on the critic and essayist Dave Hickey, Far from Respectable examines the life and work of this controversial figure, whose writing changed the discourse around art and popular culture.

June 2021
Not yet published

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This book will be available in May 2021.
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152 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 25 b&w photos |

Regarded as both a legend and a villain, the critic Dave Hickey has inspired generations of artists, art critics, musicians, and writers. His 1993 book The Invisible Dragon became a cult hit for its potent and provocative critique of the art establishment and its call to reconsider the role of beauty in art. His next book, 1997’s Air Guitar, introduced a new kind of cultural criticism—simultaneously insightful, complicated, vulnerable, and down-to-earth—that propelled Hickey to fame as an iconoclastic thinker, loved and loathed in equal measure, whose influence extended beyond the art world.

Far from Respectable is a focused, evocative exploration of Hickey’s work, his impact on the field of art criticism, and the man himself, from his Huck Finn childhood to his drug-fueled periods as both a New York gallerist and Nashville songwriter to, finally, his anointment as a tenured professor and MacArthur Fellow. Drawing on in-person interviews with Hickey, his friends and family, and art world comrades and critics, Daniel Oppenheimer examines the controversial writer’s distinctive takes on a broad range of subjects, including Norman Rockwell, Robert Mapplethorpe, academia, Las Vegas, basketball, country music, and considers how Hickey and his vision of an “ethical, cosmopolitan paganism” built around a generous definition of art is more urgently needed than ever before.

  • Introduction: His Blue Eden
  • Far from Respectable, Even Now
  • The Value of Beauty Remains Unjustified
  • His Simple Heart
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes

Daniel Oppenheimer is is the author of Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century. He has written for the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, Guernica, and The New Republic, among others.


“Dave Hickey's lifetime of stops and starts, 'three fourths of a disaster,' produced a brambly, bubbly body of work that ranges from Flaubert to Liberace and from Hank Williams to Michelangelo. It's the kind of legacy that demands an explanation, and Daniel Oppenheimer provides a brilliant one. Hickey is beautiful—and so is this book.”
Benjamin Moser, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sontag: Her Life and Work

“The never-to-be-completed mosaic that is Dave Hickey’s life and work gains some beautifully hand-crafted tiles from Daniel Oppenheimer. His authorial voice—open, intimate, probing—is the perfect vehicle for plumbing the depths of Hickey’s overall essentialness. I devoured it.”
Steven Soderbergh, Academy Award-winning film director