In a memo to the staff yesterday, The New York Times’ culture editor Jonathan Landman confirmed suspicions that longtime art critic Michael Kimmelman would take over as the paper’s senior architecture critic, ending speculation on this site and elsewhere about who would replace departing critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. Kimmelman will return from Europe, where he has written the “Abroad” column since 2007, and assume the new post in the fall.
Rather than replacing the outgoing architecture critic one-to-one, Kimmelman will continue with his other duties — writing on subjects from European culture to tennis — with the new title of "senior critic."
The full memo follows…
July 5, 2011Photo © Yerevan Magazine/Suren Manvelyan
For the past four years, as critic, foreign correspondent and inventor of his signature “Abroad” column, Michael Kimmelman has produced groundbreaking stories from Gaza, Kurdish Turkey and Syria, London, L’Aquila and Stockholm. He has written about the Hungarian far right, Holocaust education for a new generation in Germany, the pieds noirs in Southern France, bullfighting, and the lingering appeal of Soviet-style Bulgarian wit. Some of it was about Culture, meaning the disciplines we cover in our sections. All of it was about culture as a window into ideas — politics, society, economics, conflict and identity.
So it seems only natural for Michael to take on an assignment that should be just as expansive; he’ll be our next chief architecture critic. Michael’s abiding interests, as he puts it, have been “in how we live, in how buildings actually work, in city planning, public policy, neighborhoods, communities and characters, in architecture as a complex and contradictory discipline, a true generalist’s profession and synthetic art.”
He’s a native New Yorker who notes how growing up in the West Village made him “instinctively aware of the tenuous and evolving life of cities, and of people’s stake in how cities change.” This, he adds, “was when Ada Louise Huxtable was the paper’s groundbreaking and inspired architecture critic.”
Around here, he has long been a marquee byline. He started at The Times a few years out of school as a freelance music critic in the late 1980s and swiftly morphed into an art critic at the encouragement of the chief critic at the time, John Russell, who learned that he had been trained as an art historian.
He became chief critic in a flash and one of the paper’s great writers. There are way too many examples to cite here, but ask yourself: Before Michael, how many art reviews appeared on Page 1, let alone reviews of contested public art projects written on deadline like this one?
As for architecture, you may recall among other things his recent Times Magazine profiles of Oscar Niemeyer, Shigeru Ban and Peter Zumthor, his pieces in The New York Review of Books about Frank Lloyd Wright and the New York baseball stadiums, and this dispatch about the restoration of an old museum in Berlin. His writings in the field go back to his days between Yale and Harvard as a fledgling editor at ID Magazine and architecture critic for The New England Monthly.
Michael will start his new job in the fall, after he moves back from Europe with his family. And because it is neither wise nor possible to confine someone like Michael inside the border of any single discipline, he will continue to write "Abroad" columns and "Postcards" with the new title of senior critic.
It’s a lot to look forward to.