Terry Smith

Terry Smith, Professor at The European Graduate School / EGS.

BIOGRAPHY

Terry Smith (b. 1944) is an Australian art historian, critic, and theoretician. He is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh. His main research interests are contemporary art and its position in wider institutional and social contexts together with the examination of the notion of “contemporaneity” that enables him to provide an answer to the question: “what comes after modernism and postmodernism?”


Smith completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne (1967) and earned his MA at the University of Sydney (1976). The title of his MA thesis was American Abstract Expressionism: Ethical Attitudes and Moral Function. He obtained his doctoral degree in 1986, and his dissertation (full title: Making the Modern: Industry, Art and Design in America) was published in 1993 by the University of Chicago Press. In 2009, this book won the Georgia O’Keeff Museum Prize for the best book on Modern American Art published in the past 25 years. In 1976, Smith was appointed a lecturer at Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney and remained there until 2001. Presently, he serves as a board member of both the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. 


In the 1960s and 1970s, Australia was on the margin of the art world and major international movements and Smith wanted both to introduce them and to make them relevant for the Australian audience. In 1970, he founded (together with Paul McGillick) a new journal of art criticism entitled Other Voices. The aim was “to offer an alternative platform for serious writing about the newest art.” The leading article in the first issue of this journal was Terry Smith’s  “Color-Form Painting: Sydney 1965–1970.”


Smith did not want to write only scholarly articles, and he also wrote art criticism for The Nation Review and for The Australian, which was, at the time, owned by Rupert Murdoch. He was sacked by the owner of the newspaper after he published a supportive review of an artist who criticized Australian involvement in the Vietnam war and a series of increasingly political art columns. Smith drew the attention of the art world to himself when he published an essay “The Provincial Problem” (1974) in the international magazine Artforum. In this essay, he compares Jackson Pollock and an Australian artist Sydney Nolan, who is practically unknown outside Australia. He argues that art can be understood as “the question of consequence, a battle for appropriate acknowledgment, which a provincial artist will always lose unless you revise the history and entire narrative.”


During his career, Smith has written extensively about Australian art. His most important contributions in this area include chapters on the modern and the postmodern in Australian Painting 1788-2000 (2001) and Transformations in Australian Art, vol. 1, The Nineteenth Century: Landscape, Colony and Nation; vol. 2. The Twentieth Century: Modernism and Aboriginality (2002).


Another preoccupation in the work of Terry Smith is the notion of “contemporaneity” together with the status of art in our society. In What Is Contemporary Art? (2009), Smith argues that three forms of contemporary art currently exist: 1. art reflecting the after-effects of modernism, which can be classified either as a return to mainstream modernism (Richard Serra and Gerhard Richter) or as something that Smith describes as retro-sensationalism (Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami); 2. the art of the transnational turn: since Euro-centric or EuroAmerican-centric are no longer dominant, various influences from around the world create a movement within contemporary art that is characterized by its lack of homogeneity; 3. the art of a younger generation that investigates mediation and the possibility of ethics “through small scale and participatory art making.”  Other important works of Terry Smith that explore features, significance, and the position of art in the contemporary world are Contemporary Art: World Currents (2011), a wide-ranging textbook, and two books on curating. In Thinking Contemporary Curating (2012), Smith attempts to explore what is distinctive about curatorial thought. Talking Contemporary Curating (2015), takes this further, through conversations with leading international curators, art historians, and theorists, including Zdenka Badovinac, Claire Bishop, Zoe Butt, Germano Celant, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Okwui Enwezor, Boris Groys, Jens Hoffmann, Mami Kataoka, Maria Lind, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Mari Carmen Ramírez.


In addition to these works, Smith has also edited and co-edited numerous works including In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity (1997), First People, Second Chance: The Humanities and Aboriginal Australia (1999), Impossible Presence: Surface and Screen in the Photogenic Era (2001), Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction Engaged: The Sydney Seminars (together with Paul Patton; 2001), and Contemporary Art + Philanthropy (2007).