Picks and Pans Review: American Visions

updated 06/02/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET, through June 18)

A

We don't know art, but we know what we like in an art critic: strong opinions, a sense of humor and, most important, a way with words. After all, where would pictures be without them?

TIME magazine critic Robert Hughes covers three centuries of American art in this eight-hour series. There's a lot to see, and just as much to hear: The writer-host, with his magisterial tone and lordly Australian accent (really, were he and Paul Hogan born in the same country?), is inexhaustibly quotable. On June 4 he speaks of a Mount Rushmore-type sculpture of Crazy Horse that upon completion will look like "an art deco paperweight the size of a small Alp." On June 11 he regards the Statue of Liberty: "Her gaze says, 'Watch it, buster,' not 'Welcome, stranger.' "

Telling America's story through art rather than merely using history as a backdrop, the series runs the gamut of visual expression—from Currier & Ives to Willem de Kooning, from Monticello to the Chrysler Building. An overly ambitious project? Maybe, for a less confident critic. If we may borrow his description of painter Benjamin West, Hughes seems "immovably convinced of his own genius." Funny, we like him that way.

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