Elizabeth C. Baker
I know that I am scarcely alone in my admiration and respect for Betsy Baker. In my case, that appreciation is leavened with a very large helping of gratitude. Betsy, as the editor-in-chief of Art in America for nearly thirty-five years (and now editor-at-large), provided not only a publishing venue, a nurturing environment, and a training ground for scores of our best critics, but also served as a lodestone, a source of gravity (in both senses of the term) for an art world caught in what seemed to be a condition of permanent flux and uncertainty. Supremely confident but invariably modest, kind, and gracious, Betsy knew (and still knows) everything. With a perfect combination of art historical training and deep immersion in the real world of artists and art institutions, she has been able, alongside her writers and her fellow editors, to piece together the ongoing narrative of contemporary and modern art, as well as to monitor the continuing reevaluation of the art of earlier times. Her position and her reputation naturally granted her more than a modicum of power, but Betsy has always been too curious, too involved, too fair-minded and energetic to be wed to any one overarching explanation, style, or methodology. She never wanted to shift the art world to a particular way of thinking or to privilege certain artists or movements over others. I think her sense of the art world has been a synchronic one—an appreciation of the many valid (and exciting) ways of making, organizing, and thinking about art, all unfolding simultaneously—needful not of control, but of careful and passionate shepherding, of editing.
Betsy is, more than anything, a friend—of artists, critics, writers, and editors—of art (and the arts) in their multitudinous forms. It is so easy to be cynical, to see art and the art world as yet another form of a shallow, self-cannibalizing culture. People like Betsy Baker put the lie to that depressing calculation. To be able to balance (as she has done consistently over so many years) a clear-eyed realism with an idealistic belief in the validity and importance, the utter necessity of culture, is to provide all of us who care about art with something of immense value. Betsy, active and involved as ever, remains the ideal viewer and the best possible reader. I feel fortunate to have worked with her and to have been her friend for as long as I have.
RICHARD KALINA (b. 1946) is a painter and writer.