More Dave Hickey

Excerpts from Vegas Seven’s interview sessions with art and culture critic Dave Hickey, who is leaving Las Vegas for Albuquerque in August:

His original Las Vegas dream: “I just wanted to have a first-rate art program [at UNLV], and so did they. And that’s what I was sent over there by [former UNLV President] Bob Maxson to do: This is a moribund dept and I want ya’ll to shake it up. About the time we had it good and shook up, Bob was fired and then we had [President] Carol Harter, and Carol hates us.”

On his connections: “Most of the good I did is because I knew people. If Tommy Burke [a successful artist who went through UNLV’s MFA program] had gone through school under exactly the same conditions and made exactly the same art he’d still be out there skateboarding because he wouldn’t have anybody to say, ‘Call this dealer in New York.’”

On casino executives and the media: “These guys are so smart, but the one thing they didn’t undernstand that caused a lot of problems here … I’ve been in the press my whole life, and when the press gets interested in something they cover it obsessively as if it were scandalous, and then that scandal becomes a form of entertainment, and then all of your stories about poor gamblers become poker net and TV shows about Vegas and movies about Vegas and there was this real blossoming of all this stuff about Vegas. But I don’t think these guys understood the media well enough to understand that the first day you’re in the paper prefigures the last day you’re in the paper. These kinds of bubbles don’t last.”

The popularity of poker: “When online poker broke, it reduced the theater of playing cards … and they’re not very interesting people.”

What he’ll miss most about Las Vegas: “The 24/7. It’s shocking without it. Also, I think 24/7 could be, if it were seriously addressed, a contagious cultural mode that could be used other places. The thing I could tell living in Vegas, that 24/7 spread out and ameliorates and eliminates the load on the infrastructure. Imagine the traffic if we weren’t 24/7. In other words, I think the future of urban life, to make the most effective use of roads and commercial spaces, should probably be 24/7. …. So I think the real culturally interesting thing about Vegas is the three shifts. A guy from the police station said that the unique thing in Vegas is, yeah, there’s a lot of domestics here and robbery, but not much burglary because you never know when anybody’s home—This is my Sunday!—so that in most neighborhoods there’s usually somebody home.”

If he’s going to miss the Eureka, his favorite neighborhood casino: “Not now. I go once every two weeks, but they fuck with the machines.”

What he won’t miss about Las Vegas: “I won’t miss a single thing about that school. One more class and I’ll never hyperventilate again. That’s what happens, I hate it so much. I get sparkles in front of my eyes.”

What that last class at UNLV was: “I was trying to teach a class on The Federalist Papers, which I’ve taught twice before, but the class was so disinterested that I just sort of gave up. … And to be honest, the Supreme Court decisions have made it a little foolish and dated to teach The Federalist Papers these days.”

What he and Libby will be teaching at the University of New Mexico: “She’ll be teaching Art Since the 1990s [and various art philosophy courses]. I’m teaching comparative economic structure of the music theater, art and literature. I just want to give them an idea of where the jobs are and what they’d have to do and why a secretarial job in music might help you and why a secretarial job in literature won’t help you and general things like that.”

If he’s ready to start over: “No. But what I do have in New Mexico is a parking place 100 feet from where I teach. And as many TA’s as I want. And Libby is a full professor in her expertise.”

What kind of city he’s leaving behind: “My feeling is that there will be a 10-year window ([for recovery]. They’ll tear down all those hotels on the eastside of the strip – you know, the IP and all of those. Come in with neo-minimalist neon casinos and kind of upgrade everything.”

If CityCenter was the right answer: “No. It’s no fun. They’re going to have fix one of the hotels before then. But maybe not. This is Jim Murren’s taste, and Jim’s a lot younger than I am. And maybe this is the face of the future and maybe I’m really wrong.”

What’s to fear about Las Vegas in the future: “Going to back to the 1970s, when it was a redneck party town.”

What Las Vegas is going to miss about him: “What they’re going to miss about us is getting a good price on a painting. And you just missed first-rate, you know?”

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