Talk Art NYC special episode! We meet American art critic ROBERTA SMITH from her apartment in Greenwich Village. We explore her career over the past 50 years - Smith first began publishing art criticism in 1972. This epic feature-length conversation gets deep as we discuss visual literacy within education and the 'meaning' of art! In 2011, Smith became the first woman to hold the title of Co-Chief Art Critic of The New York Times.
Roberta Smith regularly reviews museum exhibitions, art fairs and gallery shows in New York, North America and abroad. Smith began regularly writing for the Times in 1985, and has been on staff there since 1991. She has written on Western and non-Western art from the prehistoric to the contemporary eras. She sees her main responsibility as “getting people out of the house,” making them curious enough to go see the art she covers, but she also enjoys posting artworks on Instagram and Twitter. Special areas of interest include ceramics textiles, folk and outsider art, design and video art. Before the NYT, she was a critic for the Village Voice from 1980 to 1984. She has written critic’s notebooks on the need for museums to be free to the public; Brandeis University’s decision to close its museum and sell its art collection (later rescinded), and the unveiling of the Google Art Project, which allowed online HD views of paintings in the collections of scores of leading museums worldwide.
Born in New York City, Smith was raised in Lawrence, Kansas, and earned her BA from Grinnell College in Iowa. She was introduced to the art world in the late 1960s, first as an intern at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, and later as a participant in the Whitney’s Independent Study Program. During her time at the Whitney, she became familiar with the New York art world, and she met the artist Donald Judd, who would figure large in her early career. Smith wrote about Judd’s development from two to three dimensions, between 1954 and 1964, and began collecting and archiving his writings.
Smith began working at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1972, at which time she also began writing for Artforum, the New York Times, Art in America, and the Village Voice, where she has written important considerations of Philip Guston’s late paintings, the sculptures of Richard Artschwager, and Scott Burton’s performances. Smith has written many essays for catalogues and monographs on contemporary artists, as well as on the decorative arts, popular and outsider art, design, and architecture. In 2003, the College Art Association awarded her with the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism.
Furthermore in 2019 Smith was presented a $50,000 lifetime achievement award from the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation. Due to NYT's editorial guidelines, Smith was unable to accept the cash prize and donated the entirety to the Art for Justice Fund, an organization launched by philanthropist Agnes Gund, whose goals include “safely cutting the prison population in states with the highest rates of incarceration, and strengthening education and employment options for people leaving prison.”: "Roberta Smith has been responsible for building an audience for the art of the self-taught, for ceramic art, video art, digital art, systems of re-presentation and much more. Across many traditional boundaries, she has offered a frank, lovingly detailed assessment of new art and artists to her expansive readership. Hers is a voice listened to by millions of readers."
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