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MAY 1

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If you want to save the $149.95 Warner Home Video will charge for a “deluxe gift set” of American Visions, get ready to crank up the VCR May 28. That’s when Time art critic Robert Hughes’ eight-part PBS miniseries premieres. Those with more traditional tastes (you can’t fault a man for knowing his market) will probably prefer Knopf’s accompanying 636-page book ($65), but those with the pelf will probably help Hughes wrap up his cultural-history hat trick with tonight’s lecture ($75, which includes a membership at the National Museum of American Art). Hughes is often praised for the cogency of his arguments and the tenacity with which he holds his views, and such commendations are hardly misplaced. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America (that’s the book) offers a thoughtful, opinionated chronicle of three and a half centuries of Americanism via a survey of visual art. What you don’t get from Hughes, however, is the transubstantiation of viewing into prose; since it’s already halfway there, his thinking often makes the leap to well-crafted writing, but his looking rarely does. Hughes admits to an awareness that television is a medium hostile to the presentation of static art, being better suited to discussions of iconography than examinations of color, texture, and scale. What he’s too smart to say, though, is that it is a platform perfectly suited to an artwriter who is more a mouth than an eye. Hughes talks and signs at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of American Art, 8th & G Sts. NW. $75. For reservations call (202) 357-4836. (Glenn Dixon)