Robert Hughes and the Warhol Faultline: Where do you Stand?

On my Facebook wall this morning I came across a video clip posted by Israel Hershberg, a painter who is also the Artistic Director and Founder of the Jerusalem Studio School.

The video, which was excepted from a 2008 BBC program, The Mona Lisa Curse, by critic Robert Hughes, straddles both sides of an art world faultline. On the one side, are those who think that Andy Warhol damaged art and painting, and took it into the realm of a joke. Hughes, who feels that Warhol "had nothing to say," is one of Warhol's detractors.

Hughes likes Non-Warholian art. Non-Warholian artists believe in the primacy of making things and employ tangible skills and ideas in the process. They also make their art without employing legions of paid assistants or relying on methods of mechanical reproduction.

On the other side of the argument is collector Alberto Mugrabi, whose father owned 800 Warhols. Mugrabi has a clear vision of Warhol's eminence. In his view Warhol was a visionary who "opened doors," for the next generation of artists including Richard Prince and Damien Hirst, both of whom Hughes dismisses. Mugrabi clearly embraces the Post-Warhol artists who have no qualms about fame, or sensationalism, and who have chosen ideas over skills. Of course Mugrabi is willing to unreservedly trumpet his high regard for these artists: he and his family own stock in them in the form of their works of art.

Take five minutes, watch this video, and let me know how you respond. Marion Maneker of the Art Market Monitor thinks that Hughes embarrasses himself: "It's almost painful to watch the conversation between Alberto Mugrabi and Robert Hughes. Hughes's bullying does his wit, learning and great skill as a writer no credit." Painter Alan Feltus, who responded to the video on Hershberg's Facebook wall, feels differently: "Few of us can say what he (Hughes) says as well to a listening audience."

I'll toss out my opinion: I don't think Warhol was stupid -- I think he was a genius as a social observer and marketeer -- but I also think he did genuine damage to the field of art. I also think that Hughes is right to make us all suspicious of the power that collectors have to influence prices, taste, and museum curators. Israel Hershberg, who doesn't mince words, said this on Facebook:

The substance of the video is not about stylistic biases as much as it is about the stated goals of fatuous idiots with fortunes like Mugrabi manipulating cultural institutions into adopting their impulses as private collectors into museum practice.

I'm ready for a good healthy comment war here, so bring it on. I'll be aligning myself with Robert Hughes.

Author's Note: To view the above clip in the context of a longer 10 minute segment, click here: