Born: 1947
Place of Birth: New York, NY
Hometown: Lawrence, KS
Education: Grinnell College
Residence: Greenwich Village, NY

ROBERTA SMITH

New York Times art critic since 1986, Roberta Smith’s clear, insightful, and accessible writing style touches upon a range of visual arts including decorative arts, outsider art, architecture, and design. In 2003 Smith was awarded the Frank Jewett Mather Award in Art Criticism by the College Art Association.

Smith was first introduced to the art world in the late 1960s as an intern at the Whitney’s Independent Study Program. Here she met Donald Judd, whose Arts Magazine reviews she would later archive. She also wrote extensively on Judd’s development from two to three dimensions, which had not been studied at all at the time.

Having grown up in an academic family, the prospect of art writing was a tremendously freeing venture for Smith; it also proved to be something she excelled at. In 1972, while working for Judd and at Paula Cooper, Smith wrote a reaction to an Artforum article about Judd written by Robert Pincus-Witten. Pincus-Witten was so impressed by her article that he personally invited Smith to write for Artforum. She also began writing for the New York Times, Art in America, and The Village Voice, where she produced important commentaries on Philip Guston’s late paintings, Richard Artschwager, and Scott Burton’s performances and first furniture sculptures.

It was not until writing for The Village Voice that Smith had the experience of being in print while the art she was writing about was on view. “Until the Voice I thought that I was on the artist’s side explaining, what they were trying to get across,” said Smith in an interview with The Brooklyn Rail. “You were always sort of working for the artist.”

Smith, who is married to art critic Jerry Saltz, says that she tries to give her readership honesty above all. “As a critic the least I can do is say, ‘I went here, and I saw that. This is how it looked and why it interested me. If you’re reading this, you might be as interested as I am,’” she explains. “In this great city where all kind of art is being put on view constantly, people want a little help sorting things out. I think my basic job as a critic is to get people out of the house, to get them interested, energized, inspired, or riled enough to just go see what I’m talking about.”

Image courtesy of The New York Times via Vera List Center for Art and Politics

RELATED CONTENT:

Roberta Smith with Irving Sandler via The Brooklyn Rail

© 2010 Artcaste