Poet and critic Bill Berkson, who died of a heart attack on June 16 at the age of 76, left a long line of magazines, book publishers, and professional organizations bereft of a veteran talent deeply embedded in the literary and art worlds. Not least among them is ARTnews, where he held his first job as an editorial associate before going on to write freelance for it and other art publications. He was the quintessential art reviewer of the ’60s, closely allied with the New York School of poets, including Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara as well as Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, and artist Philip Guston.
In his book Portrait and Dream, he sensibly wrote, “I used to worry about not having a signature style or central subject matter or a fixed character of poetry and at some point the worry ceased.”
The New York-born poet moved to San Francisco in 1970, became engrossed in the art and poetry scene, and went on to teach at various institutions. He was professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute between 1984 and 2002.
Generous with his guidance, he served as a mentor in the AICA-USA Art Writing Workshop, a partnership with the Creative Capital Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program, where he had a devoted following.
Berkson’s latest book of poems, Expect Delays, addresses the role of ethics in the arts. “Aesthetics is the ethics of the present,” he wrote. Not much could be added to that statement. He will be missed.