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Roberta Smith.

Roberta Smith Wins $50,000 Lifetime Achievement Award

New York Times art critic Roberta Smith has been named the winner of the inaugural $50,000 Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to art journalism. This is the first time the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation, which grants eight prizes to art journalists annually, has given out a Lifetime Achievement Award. At Smith’s request, the prize money has been donated to the Art for Justice Fund.

Roberta Smith has been responsible for building an audience for the art of the self-taught, for ceramic art, video art, digital art, systems of re-presentation and much more,” reads a statement from the foundation. “Across many traditional boundaries, she has offered a frank, lovingly detailed assessment of new art and artists to her expansive readership. Yet she also encourages her audiences to come to their own conclusions and expand their cultural vocabularies. On many occasions she said, humorously, that her goal was to ‘Get people out of the house to look at art.’”

Smith has been publishing art criticism since 1972. From 1980 to 1984, she was a critic for the Village Voice, and in 1985, she started writing regularly for the New York Times, where she is now co-chief art critic. 

In an interview in the February 1988 issue of Artforum, Smith said: “When I first started writing criticism I said that I wanted to publish by the time I was 25, and that I wanted to be doing my best work by the time I was 40. This was a strategy of false modesty that, I thought, gave me plenty of time. Having gotten there, I still want to be able to say—this is how you propel yourself forward—that my best work is ahead of me.”

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