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#36 Talking Shop with Roberta Smith


Guest Roberta Smith with host Charlotte Burns

Art Agency, Partners
#36 Talking Shop with Roberta Smith

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

“By now, I’m kind of an opinion machine,” says Roberta Smith, co-chief art critic for The New York Times in this special podcast recording with our host Charlotte Burns.

“I would say all art that’s middling-to-great is a strike for freedom, is an expression of liberty,” Smith says. “It’s somebody asserting themselves in a new way. And that kind of newness, you can hear it in jazz, you can see it in painting. Most of us have the potential for newness.”

Smith, who says she once “really thought about becoming a dealer”, talks about art today and her writing. She discusses the ways in which criticism and the media have changed—though her role (“I want to help people see art and have a new appreciation of what they’re seeing”) has remained essentially the same. Since she began writing in 1972, the readers have been, she says, “the engine in my work”.

“Whatever gripes you have with the art world—and we all have them—it’s the most open it’s ever been,” she says. “I can’t imagine writing in any other time than this, when there’s this kind of explosion.”

For this and much more, tune in today.

Click here for the full transcript

Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words. I’m your host, Charlotte Burns, and I’m joined today by Roberta Smith, the co-chief art critic for The New York Times. Roberta, it’s such a pleasure to be here.

Roberta Smith: Likewise. I’m thrilled to do this.

Charlotte Burns: We’re in Roberta’s office, which is where the magic happens, and we’re surrounded by books. I think there are—is it 40,000 or 60,000 books in this apartment?

Roberta Smith: I have no idea. That’s the number Jerry just gave you?


Roberta Smith

co-chief art critic, The New York Times

Roberta Smith is the co-chief art critic of the The New York Times. She joined the Times in 1991 after writing for the paper as a freelancer from 1986-1991. Smith reviews museum exhibitions, art fairs and gallery shows both locally and across the globe.

Smith began writing criticism in 1972 and views her primary role as helping people see art. In addition to reviewing shows and fairs, Smith has also written on the need for free admission to museums, deaccesioning and the Google Art Project.

Smith received the College Art Association’s Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism in 2003. She was born in New York City and raised in Kansas and is a graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa.

Charlotte Burns

executive editor of In Other Words

Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

The live record

Behind the Scenes with Roberta Smith

14 Images

For More on Roberta Smith

Reviews in The New York Times

Roberta Smith with Jarrett Earnest” interview in The Brooklyn Rail (2017)

Roberta Smith & Jerry Saltz” interview by Christopher Bollen in Interview (2013)

Roberta Smith on Art Criticism” interview with Bill Powers in Purple Magazine