7 Aug 2012

Death of influential art critic Robert Hughes

12:30 pm on 7 August 2012

The influential Australian art critic and writer Robert Hughes has died in New York aged 74.

The ABC reports that Hughes - known for books such as The Fatal Shore and Shock of the New - died in hospital in the Bronx after a long illness.

Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull, who is married to Hughes's niece, posted a statement from Hughes's wife Doris on his website confirming the death.

Mr Turnbull took to social media to express his sadness at the news.

"Robert Hughes, critic, historian, fisherman, has died today in New York City. Farewell my dear old mate. Rest in peace," he tweeted.

Hughes, who was born in Sydney, worked in London before moving to New York in 1970 where he made his name as an art critic for Time magazine.

In 2006, looking back on that time, he said the magazine wanted somebody who "could actually write about art in a way that wasn't...condescending and (in a way that) was intelligible to people who were not art experts."

Shock of the New, Hughes's television series on modern art, was broadcast in 1980 and accompanied by a book of the same name.

He admitted however that he had a streak of cruelty as a critic.

"You can't be a critic and not have a harsh side, you know, because otherwise you turn out to be a sort of Pollyanna...become this total arsehole who wanders around the world thinking every sprig of clover is a rose."

In 1987 he published The Fatal Shore, which examined the harsh life of convicts during the early European settlement of Australia. In 2000 he fronted a TV series based on the book.

Speaking on ABC Radio on Tuesday morning, Mr Turnbull said: "Bob really opened up the eyes of Australians to their history in Fatal Shore.

"He was a consummate story-teller, a great historian, one of the greatest art critics of our times."