Arts & Culture

WENT THERE: Jerry Saltz + Roberta Smith Lecture @BU


 Maybe you were surprised to see New York Magazine’s senior art critic Jerry Saltz during his brief cameo appearance on Sunday night’s episode of the HBO series “Girls,” but if you know anything about ANYTHING (and you were in the Boston area), then you were lucky enough to see him in person last night at Morse Auditorium. He and his wife, Roberta Smith (art critic for NY Times), graced our city with their presence as part of BU’s Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series. The two rarely lecture together, so the evening promised to be an interesting one.

This was hardly your traditional lecture, but functioned more like an open conversation between the two critics and the audience. We wrote down our questions on index cards, they responded. Here is a sampling of what we gained from this dynamic couple (who are actually quite strict about their policy of working and writing independently of each other, purposefully not tramping through one another’s territory):

Both critics came to their calling somewhat circuitously. Jerry Saltz was working as an artist and long-distance truck driver when the notion suddenly struck him. With no degree or background in critical studies, he trained himself to write simply by reading any and all significant material he could get a hold of.

Roberta Smith’s path to becoming a working critic was perhaps a bit more direct. From an early age she possessed a critical eye and an opinionated mind. She began working at MoMA, simultaneously reading minimalist theoretician Donald Judd’s work, until she grew weary of the world of institutions. Published by age twenty-five, she worked her way up the stepladder of publications and eventually reached that peak of all contemporary art reviews, Artforum.

The husband and wife do not, however, embody that self-important type often associated with the art world. Far from it. Their insight was refreshing, their advice encouraging, and the two seemed, well…fun. It was clear how much they enjoy their profession – and each other – from watching them interact. They see at least twenty to thirty shows together each week, always hunting for undiscovered galleries, fresh artists, something new.

But they’re the first to acknowledge they don’t always see eye to eye. Saltz, for instance, stresses the notion of “radical vulnerability” in criticism — to be as honest as possible when writing, to maintain a “rhino’s skin,” to address reader comments and furthermore, use them as a gateway to a conversation.

“I don’t have a thick skin,” Smith countered. She admits she doesn’t look much at her comments. In her opinion, criticism is quite simply a form of self-expression, and one person’s (much respected) opinion, his or her personal experience with a work of art.

Other differences? When asked what recent art trends are most exhausted, Roberta cited “Relational Aesthetics” for its lack of form while Jerry attacked “Modest Abstraction” for its lack of…well. Jerry confessed he needs “invisible music” when writing – principally Enya or, if the mood is right, Alanis Morissette. Roberta made no comment on her own musical preferences.

They do have a few overlapping philosophies, which I think are essential credos to all you artists and art lovers. Always be looking (really looking) for visual intelligence and your personal response to it. Abstain from envying your peers. Strive for self-acceptance. Good art requires sincerity. And, if you are passionate about art, you have a responsibility to be true to that and cultivate it in others — by means of whatever form or profession it may take.

The audience was sorry to see Smith and Saltz go, and I think they liked us, too. But 8:00 rolled around all too quickly, and some class really needed to take an exam in the auditorium — thus the conversation disbanded. In the meantime, we will all just have to follow Jerry on facebook. Thank you, Roberta and Jerry!!!

(If you were bad and missed the lecture, you can catch a recording of it at BU’s SVA Library.)

*Featured image courtesy of museumnerd for artnet Magazine

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License(unless otherwise indicated) © 2019