Robert Hughes (Junius Secundus) – The SoHoiad: Or, the Masque of Art: a Satire in Heroic couplets Drawn from Life,1984


Close by the Hudson, in MANHATTAN’S TOWN,
The iron palaces of Art glare down
On such as, wandering in the streets below,
Perambulate in glamorous SoHo,
A spot acclaimed by savant and by bard
As forcing-chamber of the Avant-Garde.
‘Tis there, dread DULNESS dwells in sweats and glooms,
Gnaws her brown nails, and shakes her sable plumes;
FRIVOLITY extends her flittering hand
O’er the distracted, fashionable band,
And YOUTH sustains its present coalition
‘Twixt vaulting Arrogance and blind Ambition,
Whilst rubbing shoulders with the newly-great,
Impartially selling Smack and Real Estate.
Such is the spot for Apodictick Rhyme,
The Gadfly, yet the Mirror, of its time.

Now at thy hands, great CHAOS! are restored
The brief and foolish pleasures of the bored:
The pompous novelty, the well-hyp’d trick
Delivered in the merest Augenblick.
The patronage of younger talent there
(A favoured sport) is flinging Eggs in Air
To mark if they will fly; and when they fall,
As fall they do, it matters not at all:
The temper of the age decrees at once
That none may tell the Dancer from the Dunce.
Opinion bows and scrapes, to Trade defers,
As Disco-Owners turn to Connoisseurs;
Historians to the urinous subway fly
To scribble theses on ‘The Spraying Eye’;
From Kutztown and the Bronx graffitists throng
To find, though Art is short, Reviews are long;
Our purblind Virtuosi now embrace
The spraycans hiss, the ghetto-blaster shrieks,
Above the clamour, DOLORES GRUESOME speaks:
“My pa-in-law became a millionaire
From unguents to straighten Negroes’ hair:
A generation later, I have come
To bring a new cosmetic to the slum.
In this fat piping time of cultural plenty
Art sheds its bloom when it is over 20:
Ripeness is staleness: Connoisseurs, behold
Th’apotheosis of the Twelve-Year-Old!
My Noble Savages, on sneakered feet,
Flock to the doors of Fifty-Seventh Street;
The infant dauber, whom MAYOR KOCH appalls,
Now sprays on Belgian Flax instead of walls;
The matrons twitter and the Cash-Bell rings,
I serve Hawaiian Punch and Chicken-Wings,
The fame of my invention spreads afar—
Part day-care center, part Bateau-Lavoir.”

With corybantic dance and Bacchic cry
Th’infatuate procession passes by:
And now the hybrid child of Hubris comes—
JULIAN SNORKEL, with his ten fat thumbs!
Ad Nauseam, he babbles, whines and Prates
Of Death and Life, Careers and Broken Plates
(The larger subjects for the smaller brain)
And as his victims doze, he rants again—
Poor SoHo’s cynosure, the dealer’s dream,
Much wind, slight talent, and vast self-esteem.

“Shall I compare me to Picasso? Yes!
Within me, VAN GOGH’s vision, nothing less,
Is wedded to the genius of TITIAN
And mixed promiscuously, without permision,
With several of BOB RAUSCHENBERG’S devices.
The Market’s fixed to underwrite my prices—
Compared to my achievement, JACKSON POLLOCK’S
Is nothing but a load of passé bollocks;
My next show goes by Concorde to the Prado:
‘Painter as Hero: Snorkel, Leonardo.’
Yet the comparison’s a trifle spotty,
Since Leo says I’m heir to BUONAROTTI.
Though those old Guineas knew a thing or three,
They’d certainly know more if they’d known me

Robert Hughes,1938-2012 (Junius Secundus).
The SoHoiad: Or, the Masque of Art: a Satire in Heroic couplets Drawn from Life,1984.  The New York Review of Books, March 29, 1984

Robert Hughes was art critic of Time magazine, and  The SoHoiad, is a mock-heroic satire on the vanity and hubris of the New York contemporary art scene in the early 1980s, written as a parody of Alexander Pope`s The Dunciad. Hughes’ poetic art criticism targeted the limited talents and shallowness of the triad of art, money and self-promotion embodied in the art of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and, in particular, Julian Schnabel.

The full text of The SoHoiad is published in Robert Hughes, Nothing if Not Critical, Selected Essays on Art and Artists. Published in 1990 by Collins Harvill, in Great Britain; and Alfred A Knopf, Inc, in the United States.


Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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