Celebrated art critic Robert Hughes replaces actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith for February Open VISIONS Forum


Image: Robert HughesDistinguished art critic Robert Hughes will replace actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith as guest speaker for Open VISIONS Forum, a lecture/discussion to take place Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Smith cannot appear because of an unforeseen extension in her filming schedule for CBS' "Presidio Med."

Hughes, author/originator of "The Fatal Shore," "The Shock of the New" and several other highly regarded books and television series, has been TIME Magazine's art critic for more than 30 years. The only art critic to twice receive the coveted Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism, Hughes is one of the most esteemed and widely read writers in the art world.

"Hughes has changed and shaped what we think about art, culture and history, justly gaining himself an international reputation as one of the most original and distinguished minds writing today," wrote The Sunday Times of London in awarding him its 2000 Writer of the Year award.

Hughes will present "Art: Is This Really As Bad As It Gets?" for Open VISIONS Forum, a program of University College at Fairfield University. Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D., the program's founder and on-stage moderator, advised audience members to buckle their seatbelts for a spirited slide lecture.

"He has this uncanny ability to translate the most lofty aesthetic motives into an eye-opening, common sense straight-talk," said Eliasoph, professor of art history. "I often find myself learning about Picasso, Warhol or Christo and realizing I wish I could have said that with such cocksure eloquence."

Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1938, Hughes was educated by Jesuits at St. Ignatius College and studied art and architecture at Sydney University. It was in college that he began to make a name for himself with a group known as the Sydney Push. This band of artists, writers and intellectuals also included feminist firebrand Germaine Greer and journalist/ television critic Clive James. In 1962, Hughes abandoned his college work to write his first book, "The Art of Australia," published in 1965.

Hughes left Australia for Italy and then moved to London in the early 1960s, writing for The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Observer before he landed the job at TIME in 1970. With the magazine, Hughes has gained a reputation for stellar insights on an array of artists and the all-important ability to present them to the public in understandable, unpretentious terms. In the past decade alone, he has written about such varied masters as Titian, Matisse, Lichtenstein and Vermeer to the delight of art lovers and novices alike.

"He's knowledgeable, sensible, passionate, lucid, unpretentious. But the simplest reason TIME Magazine's Robert Hughes is possibly the best art critic writing today is that he's always interesting," according to the fine arts website Artcyclopedia. "Even when you disagree with him, it's impossible not to enjoy doing so."

Hughes has also turned his talents to several projects outside the magazine, including more than 16 books. "The Fatal Shore," his stunning, 688-page history of the brutal beginnings of Australia, was an international bestseller and made the New York Times Top 10 list of 1987. "The Shock of the New," his award-winning collection of essays on art and artists, is approachable enough for home reading, while finding a space on college course lists.

Hughes has also been influential in another medium - television. He was host and creator of the 1981 history series on modern art named for "The Shock of the New." An estimated 26 million public television viewers in the United States - and comparable numbers in Great Britain and Australia - saw the series.

His 1997 series on American art and architecture, "American Visions," received equal attention and acclaim. Written and narrated by Hughes, the series explores Americans and their surroundings, a source of rich artistic tradition. Launched first on the BBC, the series won the 1997 Richard Dimbleby Award for outstanding contribution to factual television from The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), the academy's highest honor.

Hughes also won Britain's 1987 W.H. Smith Award for the most significant contribution to English literature and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. In 1992, he received the Order of Australia, his country's principal civic honor, for services to Australian art and literature.

In 1999, while in Australia to film the documentary "Beyond the Fatal Shore," Hughes was involved in a head-on car collision and nearly died. He was acquitted of a dangerous driving charge, but continues to deal with legal issues in the case while going on with his work.

Hughes, who remains an Australian citizen, lives in New York City and Shelter Island, N.Y.

Tickets to Hughes' talk are $18, $15 for senior citizens. Tickets already purchased for Smith will be honored at the Hughes lecture. Those seeking a refund should contact the box office before Feb. 7 to allow others to purchase their tickets for Robert Hughes. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396. For more information, visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 22, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 176