The Art Angle Podcast: The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl on His Adventures in Life as an Accidental Art Critic

On this week's episode, the illustrious art critic speaks to Artnet News's Ben Davis about their craft, the art scene, and much more.

Art critic Peter Schjeldahl joins Ben Davis on the Art Angle Podcast. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.
Art critic Peter Schjeldahl joins Ben Davis on the Art Angle Podcast. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

 

 

In his 2019 essay “The Art of Dying,” acclaimed critic Peter Schjeldahl describes Patsy Cline’s voice as “attending selflessly to the sounds and the senses of the words… consummate.” The same could be said about Schjeldahl’s incomparable writing about art, most notably during his 22 years (and counting) as the art critic for the New Yorker. And no one expected this outcome less than Schjeldahl himself.

A Midwest native who beamed to New York at the dawn of the 1960s with little more than a high-school diploma, Schjeldahl was an aspiring poet who began reviewing exhibitions to pay the bills. More than five decades later, he is almost universally regarded as one of the most respected and beloved art critics alive. His signature first-person reckonings with art—several examples of which were recently collected in his latest book, Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1988-2018—balance accessibility, lyricism, and wit in a style that he has been painstakingly refining for nearly six decades.

Schjeldahl hasn’t always led a charmed life. Over the course of the past year, he experienced an almost unbelievable series of misfortunes. First, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and given just six months to live; next, the apartment in the East Village he shared for 47 years with his wife, Brooke, caught fire and took his papers with it; and most recently, of course, the Schjeldahls were forced into lockdown along with much of the rest of humanity by the global health crisis.

Yet the tide recently turned in Schjeldahl’s favor: miraculously, his cancer is in remission thanks to treatment. His brush with the end has also enriched his perspective on art and life in new ways, which the inimitable writer was gracious enough to discuss in a phone conversation with Artnet News’s own renowned critic, Ben Davis, from his country home in the Catskills.

On this week’s episode, Andrew Goldstein gives the floor to the critics for a free-wheeling, candid, and refreshingly upbeat conversation about subjects ranging from the intellectual gymnastics of art reviewing, to the chaotic ’60s art scene in New York, to why you can’t really understand Rembrandt before age 40. It’s an indelible reminder of why no one else has ever done it quite like Schjeldahl—and why no one else ever will.

Listen above and subscribe to the Art Angle on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Or catch up on past episodes here on Artnet News.)

 

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