Art Critic Roberta Smith to Retire After 32 Years at New York Times

Art Critic Roberta Smith to Retire After 32 Years at New York Times

Roberta Smith, one of the nation’s leading art critics, will step down from her post as co-chief art critic of the New York Times. She had contributed to the Times for 38 years, officially working for the publication for 32 of them, and had been co-chief art critic since 2011.

On her Instagram, Smith wrote, “I’ll still contribute short reviews to the Times every couple of months and, if further ideas occur, can also write about those. In my coals-to-Newcastle-life, I will have more time to pursue my number one interest, which is going to galleries and museums, looking at stuff. But this will be the first time since 1972 – with a few breaks — that I won’t have regular writing commitments, which I can barely comprehend.”

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An elderly gentleman is seen in partial profile in a black-and-white photograph. He wears a collared shirt; the background is blurry.

She continued, “I think I can say that art has kept me young – or something close. I look forward to seeing if live music, dance and theater can do the same. We who have art in our lives in any form are incredibly lucky. But the real luck may be having people who love and obsess about art so completely in our lives.”

Her husband, New York art critic Jerry Saltz, said on his Instagram, “I am biased but believe that @robertasmithnyt is the best pure art critic alive. The directness, integrity, conciseness, power of observation, ability to parse differences and conditions, love of art, respect for artists, and obsession for how things are made make her indispensable and irreplaceable. She has been at the Times since 1986 – 38 years of memorable weekly deadlines, regular obituaries, and critic-notebooks.”

According to the Times’s announcement, Smith had written more than 4,500 essays and reviews since being hired in 1991.

It wasn’t clear whether her post would be filled. She currently serves as co-chief art critic alongside the Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Holland Cotter.

Smith, now in her 70s, is widely read and well-regarded. Her writing career dates back to the ’70s, when she contributed to Artforum, Art in America, ARTnews, the Village Voice, and other publications of note, and she has since then cultivated a reputation for stylish, incisive criticism that is notably shorn of artspeak that tends to pervade art writing.

“I think that criticism teaches people to be critical,” she once said. “It’s essential to a democracy in a way.  I don’t want to overblow what I do, but it’s like you’re demonstrating one way of being critical within this certain area, and hopefully, it will get people to look critically.”

When she was made co-chief art critic of the Times in 2011, two decades after she was officially hired by the publication, she made history as the first woman to hold that title.

Among the accolades she has won is the Rabkin Foundation’s lifetime achievement award, which comes with $50,000.

Barbara Graustark, the art editor of the New York Times, said in a statement, “Over more than 50 years, Ro has anointed the new, celebrated the overlooked, and held institutions accountable on many fronts, including representation and acquisitions, while bringing fresh context to marginalized areas of art-making, especially outsider art and craft.”

Smith’s departure is the second major one for an art critic at a New York–based general interest publication in the past few years. Peter Schjeldahl, the longtime art critic for the New Yorker, died while holding the post in 2022, leaving a void that was filled last year by Jackson Arn.

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