Art Net: The Life and Times of Walter Robinson

A story of outré journals, East Village parties, reality television, painting

Art in America, with all of its prestige, pays like shit,” Mr. H-O said. “You can’t raise a family on that salary.” Mr. Robinson signed on. “He was the first art writer to realize that if you do not exist online, you may not exist at all,” Mr. Saltz said. At the time, Artnet magazine was the only Internet publication devoted to art.

“From the outset, the magazine was a loss leader, and it still is,” Mr. Neuendorf said, adding that today the editorial properties—there are also French and German publications—lose $1.5 million a year.

People talk about dysfunction at Artnet back then, and Mr. Milford left after about a year. “Walter is a very charming man,” Mr. Milford said, adding vaguely, “He has other capacities as well.” Mr. Robinson steered the website through the Internet boom and bust—when cash dried up and writers went unpaid for months.

He has occasionally courted controversy at Artnet, for example by publishing the work of the acid-tongued critic Charlie Finch, a friend, for the past 15 years.

Mr. Robinson remarried in the mid-1990s, to the art historian and curator Anastasia Aukeman. They split in 2000. Moving out of their East Village loft, Mr. Robinson sold a bunch of his artworks at bargain prices: spin paintings for $100 each. “There were stacks and stacks of work,” Mr. Finch recalled. “It was kind of dirge-like.”

When The Observer returned to Mr. Robinson’s studio this past weekend, snow was packed on the sidewalk outside. The nose cone painting had been shipped off to Tucson, and he was just finishing work on a new small painting on paper of a young woman in a bikini, its top polka dotted, its bottom striped.

He has been painting regularly again, and has been in a few recent group shows. Among the new works are nude women on beaches and bright-faced women’s heads on cardboard, some titled Shemale and others named for porn stars. And there are the still lifes, including a new one of scrambled eggs, caviar and buttered bread, based on a photo Martha Stewart took of her breakfast.

What comes next?

“Collectors were happy to buy a picture to fill out their ’80s portfolio,” Mr. Robinson had told us in December, talking about his 2008 show. Then he channeled a buyer. “‘Oh, Robinson was in there as part of that Pictures business. They’re pretty, they’re sexy.’ You know, things get better as they get older, sometimes. They bought them, but that doesn’t mean that they want to come back now and see more work.”

Mr. Robinson said that some people have a simple answer for why he isn’t showing: “I didn’t become a successful artist because I didn’t want it enough,” he said. He thought for a moment. “Sometimes it seems like you have to really want something to get it,” he said. “Other times it seems like it’s handed to you on a silver platter.”

That reminded us of something he wrote a while back, in the 10th issue of Art-Rite, in 1975. “Good art is accidental the way daydreams are,” he argued. “Prone to manipulation, but no guarantees.”


  1. Super guy, Super art, Super friend, Superman!

  2. Robert Reitzfeld says:

    Walter, I’m happy you’re painting again.

  3. […] of Walter Robinson by Andrew Russeth, The NY Observer January 25th, 2012 • Paul H-O New feature on the wily and wooly star of GalleryBeat Television, the artist, critic, editor of magazine. Walter has been a good friend since 1988 and […]

  4. […] Robinson, artist Posted on January 25, 2012 by John Robinson This is my brother, Walter, from a longish profile in the New York […]

  5. I would never trade my Robinson Spin Painting for any Hirst–love ya Walter!

  6. Marc H. Miller says:

    Nice reading all this history. And he still sold “Kitty Prints” for $30 at the recent Colab Show at Printed Matter. Obviously an art bargain!

  7. Marc H. Miller says:

    Nice reading all this history. And he still sold “Kitty Prints” for $30 at the recent Colab Show at Printed Matter. Obviously an art bargain!

  8. Celia and Steve says:

    “When the art world wants you, it will come and get you”

    Walter: Congratulations! Looks like the Art World wants You.

  9. Marilyn Church says:

    what a fantastic article about you in the Observer…loved your observations on success& failure. It’s all relative but I’m afraid you won’t be able to fend off mega success any longer.

  10. Marilyn Church says:

    what a fantastic article about you in the Observer…loved your observations on success& failure. It’s all relative but I’m afraid you won’t be able to fend off mega success any longer.

  11. Svieille says:

    Oh my Mother! Real life and then the legend or whatever people can make out of it… Wishing you a McArthur award very soon sweet heart…

  12. Theresa says:

    I just saw Mr. Robinson in a very cool, funny doc called “Guest of Cindy Sherman”. Walter is brilliant in it!

  13. Theresa says:

    I just saw Mr. Robinson in a very cool, funny doc called “Guest of Cindy Sherman”. Walter is brilliant in it!

  14. zwack says:

    Good for you man!

  15. Regarding Walter Robinson — recall many times in the 90’s while doing my own James Kalm type of art opening video coverage for my decade ArtSeen Cable show — when in moments of convergence, there would be the Art Beat team of Walter, Paul Ho & Kathi Liebowitz on the streets of SoHo or galleries with our cameras eying each other on Saturday afternoons. We had quite different agendas about what we were doing, so I never thought of them as competition & they a jolly team.

    Walter & I go back to the Whitney Independent Study program in the Spring of 1973 which for years had it’s studio’s in an honest to God major underground bank vault on Read St just above Chambers where we would pass through the gigantic open vault doors. i believe it was right then & there that the art money thing really had it’s modern origins. In the spring of 1973 I was one of the only painters & attending from SFAI & the minimalist/ conceptualists often the unrelenting top dog speakers for whom painting was a dirty word. I had a pretty tough time & to save my sanity took a very aggressive stance with them becoming quite confrontational. I infuriated the staff & as a result my art was singled out to be excluded from the WISP part of the Whitney Biennial that spring. Several artists protested including Robin Winters also from SFAI & Charlie Ahern, etc, — but it was Walter Robinson in the art history part of the program who arranged for my art to be videoed he then made into a very cool part of WISP’s major installation in the Whitney Biennial so I was shown anyway. After this I met Greenberg & other art writers who liked what I was up to.

    In later years even though I wasn’t part of Walters inner circle — came to know many of them — he continued very supportive. He knew I was a radical underdog & therefore having a very tough time surviving but we liked each other chanciness. One year the two of us together did a panel for the Artist Talk on Art Symposium Series held in a Mercer Street Gallery in SoHo. There was a tough day for me figuring out how to video Walter’s spin paintings opening on the very same day of Damiens first major show with Spin Paintings at Gagosian in SoHo. There was also the time I was being evicted from my then huge SoHo loft on Mercer Street Walter noted on Artnet. As a result I made a crucial small sale to Warhol’s assistant Gerald Malanga. I had somehow earlier hit it off with Andy & survived a full year earlier because of him which played into this. There’s been lots written about the circumstances of it, some of it once again in 2011 making into the major media like the NY Times regarding major changes in the Warhol Foundation.

    In the mid 90’s Walter asked about my background as USAF jet pilot & my involvement with the top astrophysicists in deep space research & encouraged my writing it all up & in a back & forth over months edited to a narrative featured with my paintings on Artnet. It was something of inner salvation for me, as till then no one else knew of my past & it’s still on line.

    I’d often seriously tell Walter he should have been a star in Hollywood & definitely meant it. Anyhow there were many other adventures — what with when his taking on Charlie Finch into Artnet & the surrounding events I documented & how I later even became friends with several of major minimalists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre, etc., who turned out secretly having liked my passion confronting them — but that’s another story…

    Regarding Walter I continue to say this:
    Walter Robinson, Super guy, Super artist, Super friend, Superman!

  16. Walter R says:

    Very nice! I must say, however, that reports of sexual conquests in the ’70s are pure fiction, as I only really learned to do it after I met my current wife in 2000. And, despite any testimony to the contrary, I loved showing at Metro Pictures.

  17. […] The New York Observer profiles the life and times of artist and ArtNet editor Walter Robinson. […]

  18. Kruegerdavidg says:

    I would not trade my portrait of Rembrandt for anything on this earth Walter. I still remember the pain and shame of not having $100 when you purged your 14th st studio…
    and that I liked you within 5 minutes of meeting you at Artists Space.
    Had I known that our art world aspirations were of the same general temperature I would have put more effort into bonding! Still, all my sentences begin with “I” so there’s likely a place for me in the art world yet…
    Ok, back to my needlepoint of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld reading the Thermite manual.

  19. Erik Hanson says:

    wow, this was just plain fascinating…walter took my picture the day my front tooth fell out at my opening at Derek Eller in 2003

  20. Marybullockartist says:

    The only true success is to lead an interesting life.

  21. […] Art Net: The Life and Times of Walter Robinson | Gallerist NYJan 25, 2012 … Walter Robinson in 1985, photographed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. ( Courtesy the artist). Ask anyone about Walter Robinson, and they … […]

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  23. […] Walter Robinson has helped to create a generation of New York art writers. (He also, as Gallerist reported last year, fucked every girl in the art world in the 70s). Lately, he’s returned to […]