Perfect Wave (Hardcover)

More Essays on Art and Democracy

By Dave Hickey

University of Chicago Press, 9780226333137, 240pp.

Publication Date: October 23, 2017

Other Editions of This Title:
MP3 CD (1/23/2018)

List Price: 25.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


When Dave Hickey was twelve, he rode the surfer’s dream: the perfect wave. And, like so many things in life we long for, it didn’t quite turn out----he shot the pier and dashed himself against the rocks of Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach, which just about killed him.
Fortunately, for Hickey and for us, he survived, and continues to battle, decades into a career as one of America’s foremost critical iconoclasts, a trusted, even cherished no-nonsense voice commenting on the all-too-often nonsensical worlds of art and culture. Perfect Wave brings together essays on a wide range of subjects from throughout Hickey’s career, displaying his usual breadth of interest and powerful insight into what makes art work, or not, and why we care. With Hickey as our guide, we travel to Disneyland and Vegas, London and Venice. We discover the genius of Karen Carpenter and Waylon Jennings, learn why Robert Mitchum matters more than Jimmy Stewart, and see how the stillness of Antonioni speaks to us today. Never slow to judge—or to surprise us in doing so—Hickey powerfully relates his wincing disappointment in the later career of his early hero Susan Sontag, and shows us the appeal to our commonality that we’ve been missing in Norman Rockwell. With each essay, the doing is as important as what’s done; the pleasure of reading Dave Hickey lies nearly as much in spending time in his company as in being surprised to find yourself agreeing with his conclusions.
Bookended by previously unpublished personal essays that offer a new glimpse into Hickey’s own life—including the aforementioned slam-bang conclusion to his youthful surfing career—Perfect Wave is not a perfect book. But it’s a damn good one, and a welcome addition to the Hickey canon.

About the Author

Dave Hickey writes cultural criticism. He is former executive editor of Art in America and the author of Air Guitar. He has served as a contributing editor for the Village Voice and as the arts editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is now a professor of English at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas.

Praise For Perfect Wave: More Essays on Art and Democracy

"Veteran art critic Hickey delivers another poignant and masterful collection of essays. In each selection, he critically and humorously contemplates cultural zeitgeists and the essence of good art in music, books, paintings, and architecture. His razor-sharp insight and witty prose make for an entertaining read. . . . While his prose is charming and at times aphoristic, Hickey is always serious when challenging the status quo or defending the cultural innovators who, in his view, have realized art’s potential as a medium for beauty, democracy, and unabashed self-expression."

— Publishers Weekly

"He remains one of the finest American cultural critics, for he opens his own pleasures to appreciative scrutiny and collective relish."

— PopMatters