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One of the pre-eminent chroniclers of the New York art scene over the past half-century is (mostly) hanging up her keyboard: Roberta Smith, the co-chief art critic of The New York Times, is retiring.

In a New York Times Company announcement today (11 March), the publication’s deputy culture editor Sia Michel and art editor Barbara Graustark praised Smith for her more than 4,500 contributions since she began writing for the Times as a freelancer in 1986. Smith joined the staff of the Times in 1991 and eventually rose to be co-chief art critic, a title she shares with Holland Cotter.

“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,” Graustark said. Michel added: “Roberta is a trailblazing critic whose brilliant reviews and recommendations have always guided my love of art. As soon as I get home from a show she’s written about, I immediately reread her review to see what ideas I missed.”

Prior to writing for the Times, Smith had contributed to the Village Voice and Art in America, as well as working at Paula Cooper Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, for the Minimalist artist Donald Judd and participating in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s renowned Independent Study Program. Her passion for Minimalist, conceptual and abstract art—in 1987 she curated the exhibition Abstraction in Process at Artists Space—was apparent to regular readers of her reviews, which over the years have heaped praise on abstractionists from Hilma af Klint and Robert Ryman to Stanley Whitney and On Kawara. But she has also been willing to engage with the resurgence of figurative painting (in a glowing review of Henry Taylor’s recent Whitney retrospective, for instance), tackle historicalexhibitions at institutions big and small, cover majorbiennials and even sometimes (with a tinge of reluctance) write about art fairs.

In an Instagram post about her retirement, Smith wrote that she “won’t be going far” and plans to “contribute short reviews for the Times every couple of months”. And though she will be writing less, she seems destined to remain a fixture of the New York art circuit.

“I will have more time to pursue my number one interest, which is going to galleries and museums, looking at stuff,” she wrote. “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. I think I can say that art has kept me young—or something close.”

Smith was the first recipient of the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2019. Her husband, Jerry Saltz, is the senior art critic for New York magazine. Her retirement signals the latest shakeup among the ranks of art critics at US general interest publications; following the death of its longtime critic Peter Schjeldahl in 2022, the New Yorker recently hired Jackson Arn as its new art critic.

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