November 29, 2022


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Peter Schjeldahl, New York art critic with a poet's voice, dies at 80

Peter Schjeldahl, New York art critic with a poet’s voice, dies at 80

Peter Charles Schjeldahl was born on March 20, 1942, in Fargo, ND, and grew up in small towns in North Dakota and Minnesota. His father, Gilmore, better known as Shelley, was an inventor and entrepreneur whose company made machines for making plastic bags and later produced NASA’s first communications satellite, Echo I. Peter’s mother, Charlene (Hanson) Schgeldahl, worked as her husband’s office manager.

Peter attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, but dropped out after his sophomore year. He found work at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, New Jersey, where he spent his vacation hours immersed in the artistic world of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and attended Kenneth Koch’s poetry workshop at The New School. After returning to Carleton, he and his colleagues founded The Mother, a magazine featuring New York School poetry, of which he is now a junior member.

Then he published several volumes of poetry. Since 1964: New and Selected Poems, a multi-volume collection of his poetry, was published in 1978. Soon, he told Interview Magazine, “Art criticism ate poetry.” But poetry, as he wrote in the preface to Let’s See: Writings on Art from the New Yorker (2008), has instilled in him a habit of “following the truth by ear, chasing surprise, and not knowing what to say until I’ve said it.”

Mr. Schjeldahl left Carleton in 1964 without a degree and went to Paris, where he discovered his passion for art, especially painting. Returning to New York a year later, prompted by Thomas B. He later wrote: “Most of what I knew scientifically about art I learned on deadlines,” “to seem as if I knew what I was talking about—as I did little by little.”

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He began writing regularly for Art News, and beginning in 1967, for The New York Times, occasionally venturing into film and television criticism before turning away from art writing in the mid-1970s. It was a short rest period.