Peter Schgeldahl, distinguished art critic of The New Yorker, has died at the age of 80

Peter Schgeldahl, a college dropout from Minnesota who became one of New York’s most respected art critics, writes with wit, humanity and lyrical precision about old masters like Velázquez (“If he were a rocker, he would be Roy Orbison”) and giants of the 20th century like Lucian Freud (“Hard to Impress”). him and it is almost impossible not to admire him”), died October 21 at his home in Bovina, New York. He was 80 years old.

His daughter, writer Ada Calhoun, said the cause was lung cancer. Mr. Schjeldahl wrote of his illness in “77 Sunset Me,” A humorous New Yorker article published in 2019, shortly after his diagnosis. He wrote that he had been given six months to live, but had shown a “remarkable improvement” with immunotherapy, which his daughter credits with extending his life.

“I’ve always said that when my time comes I want to go fast,” he wrote. “But where’s the fun in that?”

Mr. Schjeldahl (pronounced Shell Doll) began writing criticism in 1965 while trying to support himself as a poet, and continued writing reviews and essays with occasional breaks until his death. Passionate, knowledgeable, and often decisive, he had a knack for conveying complex or surprising ideas in loose sentences, and for bringing artwork to life on the pages of Village Voice and The New Yorker, for which he has been a staff writer since 1998.

Description of Alexander Calder Sculpture in 1963 “Southern Cross” in a 2001 New Yorker article, sought to move The “disturbing urgency” of the work, he writes, “Imagine a person using gestures to describe a tree to people who have never seen one before: ‘This thing comes out of the ground and climbs up, and there are things on top of it that spread and hang—or, hell with it.” “Calder’s style touches something heroic and unfortunate in all of us,” he added.

Mr. Schjeldahl grew up in small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota, and had been fascinated by the language since he was a boy—”At breakfast, I meditated every word on a packet of cereal as if it were a sacred thing,” he recalls—and dreamed of a big, bohemian city life somewhere on the coasts. . He found it in New York, where he wrote poetry, and mingled with the writers of the New York School John Ashbery And Frank O’Hara, and he learned art criticism on the job, and went on to do so until he said, “Art criticism ate poetry.”

Over the years, his career has plagued him with drug abuse, alcoholism (he became sober in the early ’90s), and his tendency to isolate himself from old friends both in and out of the art world. “I am compulsively and unambiguously impolite. … I cannot write about people, which is why I write about inanimate objects” In an interview with Interview magazine in 2014. Nevertheless, he remained a popular and widely read critic for more than half a century, delighting generations of art lovers with reviews often pointing to the profound influence of a great painting or sculpture.

“The voice is what it’s always had: distinct, clear, funny,” Wrote New York editor, David Renick, is in homage. “A poet’s voice – nothing is wasted.”

Writing about an exhibition of Italian portraits from the sixteenth century organized last year by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Mr. Schjeldahl note That “a wall in the last room of the show, hung with five advanced bronzes, stunned me like a series of Sunday punches.” Retrospective exhibition by painter Robert Colescot make him feel “It knocked delightfully like an enhanced pinball,” while Edward Hopper’s work left him “a sense of loneliness, and a gnawing of a feeling of inexpressibility, like to be tongue-tied with love.”

in New York Times Review From “Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light” (2019), Mr. Schjeldahl’s latest collection of essays, author Charles Finch praised the “remarkable tensile beauty” of Mr. Schjeldahl’s writings, adding: “He has the power to freeze a cold artist into a line, not by saying aphorisms, suggesting a departure from the definite, but with precise and written precision.”

Sometimes it can wilt, interrupting the work of artists like Kaws, the favorite auction house known for its dedication to cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse. “Like a diet consisting only of celery, which is said to consume more calories than it saves for digestion, KAWS activates the hallucinatory syndromes of spiritual hunger,” he wrote, using the artist’s multi-character style stylist’s name.

For him, Matisse and Kaus – as well as Basquiat and Rembrandt, Huber and Koons – were all in the same contemporary world, and they were all worthwhile. “I define contemporary art as every work of art that exists at the present time, that is 5,000 years old or five minutes old,” he told Brooklyn Rail magazine. in 2015. “We are looking with contemporary eyes. What other eyes are there?”

Peter Charles Schjeldahl, the eldest of five children, was born in Fargo, ND, on March 20, 1942. His mother, Charlene (Hanson)He was an avid reader who worked as his father’s office manager, Gilmorewho fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and worked with plastics, adhesives, and electrical circuits to build one of the world’s first communications satellites, Echo 1. His other inventions included a plastic-lined air rotor bag.

Mr. Schjeldal said he acted sternly, sometimes bringing his mother to tears, in an attempt to get the attention of his father, who was focused almost exclusively on his work. Decades later, Mr. Schjeldahl showed one focus on the same lines as an adult, throwing himself into writing at the expense of parenting his daughter Calhoun. In June, she published a memoir titled “Also a Poet” which described him as a loving but neglectful father who rarely took an interest in her life. (Mr. Schjeldal told Calhoun he loved the book, calling it “a gift like that.”)

Ada Calhoun makes peace with a neglected father in ‘Too Poet’

“Writing consumes the book,” he noted in his New Yorker article on cancer. “No end is better than what I’ve often said. Passion hurts relationships. I think sporadically about the people I love, but I think about writing all the time.”

After graduating from high school in Northfield, Minnesota, Mr. Schjeldahl studied English at nearby Carleton College. He dropped out in 1962, at the age of 20, and headed east, talking about his way to work as a news reporter in Jersey City. He later returned to college for a year before dropping out for good.

Over the next decade, Mr. Schjeldahl (“unwisely”) married fellow writer, Linda O’Brien. Travel across Europe. books for ARTnews and The New York Times; I got divorced in Mexico; They avoided military service in Vietnam by staying up for “three days and nights at speed,” he said, before appearing at a guidance center covered in dirt looking like a lunatic.

Receiving mentorship from Seymour Peck, arts and culture editor for The Times, he began gaining confidence as a critic in the 1970s. “Most of what I know scientifically about art I learned on deadlines,” he recalls, “to sound like I knew what I was talking about—as I did little by little. Educating yourself in public is painful, but the lessons are constant.”

In 1974, Mr. Schjeldal married Brooke Alderson, the actress and comedian he met at the opening of the Whitney Museum. In the 1980s, they bought a country house in the Catskills town of Buffina, where for many years they hosted loud fireworks. Fourth of July celebrations, where Mr. Schjeldal oversaw the elaborate fireworks display. Artists, writers, gallery owners and movie stars attended the event, which attracted around 2,000 people in 2015 before Schjeldahls decided to retire the event.

In addition to his wife and daughter, the survivors included a brother, three sisters, and two grandchildren.

Although Mr. Schjeldahl eventually left poetry aside, he published several books of poetry and briefly discontinued criticism to focus on poetry in the mid-1970s. He announced his decision in part through a cheeky poem, “Dear Art Writing Career,” in which he chased after fellow critics such as Hilton Kramer (who “makes art look attractive / as an enema to remove sweat”) and Harold Rosenberg (a “Bluhard honey tongue”).

In the last passage, he referred to art critics as “a small guild on the fringes of a useful human effort” and then addressed the profession itself, reflecting modestly on his own contributions:

I neither enrich you nor erode as others have done,

But I wish I had done my best for fun,

A sweet passing type for the serious.

I didn’t mean any harm. May you forget my sins.

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