University Art Historian Terry Smith Wins Prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award

Issue Date: 
March 1, 2010
Terry-SmithTerry Smith

One of the most significant honors for art criticism has been awarded to Terry Smith, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh.

The College Art Association (CAA) is honoring Smith with the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Smith’s recent book What Is Contemporary Art? (University of Chicago Press, 2009). In its award citation, the CAA called Smith “that rare art and social historian who is able to write criticism at once alert to the forces that contextualize art and sensitive to the elements and qualities that inhere to the works of art themselves.”

Smith’s book offers the most comprehensive mapping of contemporary art currently available. Within the bewildering variety of art, he distinguishes three prominent currents. Mainstream modernism continues in the work of leading U.S. and European artists such as Richard Serra and Gerhard Richter, while a diluted avant-gardism is evident in the retro-sensationalism of figures like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami. At the same time, Smith reveals, artists involved in the decolonization of Africa, South America, and Asia have focused on questions of identity, history, and globalization. A younger generation embodies yet a third approach to contemporaneity by investigating time, place, mediation, and ethics through small-scale, interactive, media-savvy art making.

The Frank Jewett Mather Award, first presented in 1963, is named after a professor of art and archeology who taught at Princeton University from 1910 to 1933. It has been won by many distinguished critics, including Max Kozloff, Barbara Rose, Clement Greenberg, Lawrence Alloway, Rosalind Krauss, Lucy R. Lippard, Robert Hughes, Leo Steinberg, Douglas Crimp, Eleanor Heartney, and Arthur C. Danto.

Smith is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a visiting professor on the faculty of architecture at the University of Sydney. He was recently the GlaxoSmithKlein Senior Fellow at the National Humanities Research Centre in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Smith’s books include Making the Modern: Industry, Art and Design in America (University of Chicago Press, 1993), which won the inaugural Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Prize in 2009 for the best book on American modernist art published in the past 25 years.