My experience of reading American critic Dave Hickey’s newest collection of essays Pirates and Farmers alternated between being rather infuriating and intensely enjoyable. The former comes in when the author writes far too much about the “good old days” as if nothing culturally significant has happened since the drugged up Stones holed up in the south of France to record Exile on Main Street. The latter emanates from the author’s formidable ability to construct memorable, contentious prose. On the whole, working critics are piecemeal writers and Pirates and Farmers is a well-designed small book of talks, editorial pieces, and catalogue essays written over the period 1999-2013, linked mostly via the author’s highly identifiable style. Hickey isn’t a generic critic, but on occasion he tends to serve up “generic Hickey.” His earlier, critically-lauded book Air Guitar is not dissimilar in its construction, but more convincing in its subtlety. Hickey’s addiction to the one-liner, valorisation of the glitz of Las Vegas, and sometimes lurid, anachronistic artworks can mar his otherwise deft and careful writing. He is a showman, but these days often congratulates himself on his own performance rather than speaking towards the works of others, unless part of his long-standing, occasionally idiosyncratic canon (Ruscha, Kelly, Warhol, Ruskin, Mitchell). The title essay in which the author divides the general populace (and of course artists) into two typological categories, farmers who “build fences and control territory,” and pirates who “tear down fences and cross borders” is fuel for a nice party game, as this system is actually pretty sound. But what do I know anyway, being a critic who works in the academic environment, yet another one of Hickey’s favourite targets.