John Yau (image courtesy John Yau)

Few critics are like John Yau, who, for decades, has continued to engage with contemporary art with a voracious appetite, often focusing on figures ignored by the art market and mainstream institutions that chase after the next shiny thing. He has been part of the Hyperallergic Weekend editorial collective since it debuted in 2012.

John’s writing about contemporary art cuts through hierarchies and academic jargon while revealing his love of art and innovative ideas. I asked him about his life, how he got into art writing, stories from his childhood, and other influences that help us understand a writer who continues to challenge both himself and readers to look at art with fresh and informed eyes. This special two-hour interview offers a window into the world of one of the country’s most respected art critics and poets.

A special thanks to Vinson Valega for providing the music for this interview. You can learn more about his music at

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Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

7 replies on “Art Critic John Yau Talks About Four Decades of Writing in New York”

  1. John Yau’s poetry is extraordinarily fresh and innovative. Superlatively surreal. Can’t wait to listen to this.

  2. it is a privilege to listen to a national treasure like Yau, but puzzling that, despite that he offers a vivid tour of the New York art world of the seventies, eighties, and nineties– with the exception of a few remarks on Judd—there is practically no mention of Pop, Minimalism, or Conceptual Art.

    1. I keep on loving this interview; many thanks! BTDubs, I am Adam Strauss; but Google for who knows why years ago decided–he’s Randy.

  3. Thanks for the conversation with John Yau. Very much appreciated. John looks at work and writes about it. That seems simple enough but actually very few people writing about art seem to look very hard at the artwork itself.

    ps- regarding your tv viewing preferences….John, you might enjoy ‘Vares, Private Investigator’. My wife and I are big Montalbano fans.

  4. What a fantastic interview. I scribbled down all the bits that resonated and now find I can not read my scribbles. I have listened through this twice as so many great gems within.
    “What are you being told and what don’t you know? What makes you feel uneasy…” “You don’t know why (a certain artwork makes one feel uneasy) and you dig deeper to find out why.” This curiosity, comfort with being uncertain and uncomfortable in front a piece, and the respect for the work to take the time to look at and think about it…is why I have so much respect for John Yau as an art critic. I never expect my work to resonate with every person. To have someone who honestly looks at and experiences the work, and takes the time to ‘dig deep”and analyze his/her response and reaction is the epitome of what I seek as an artist. I watch for Mr. Yau’s reviews because they are always intelligent, well thought out, respectful of the work and intriguing to read, as if seeing the art through his eyes. I respect that he seeks out work about which he is curious and that the artists are not often the “usual suspects” when it comes to the NY art world. I don’t always agree with his take on the work, but his reviews often pique my interest, and usually spark deeper thinking of my own and another look at the work in question. Thank you John Yau, Hrag Vartanian and Hyperallergic. PS Loved the discussion of fabrication and art… “Fabrication..entrepenurial capitalism…reduces all art to merchandise.” PPS It has been suggested to me to delegate some of my work to others…as most involves a lot of repetition and time. But since I respond most to work that is intimate and shows the mark of the artists’ hands and mind…it is something I have so far been unwilling to do…and found some validation of this in Yau’s responses in this interview.

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