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Former L.A. Times art critic William Wilson dies at 78

April 21, 2013|By Amy Kaufman
  • Former Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson died Saturday at age 78.
Former Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson died Saturday at age… (Los Angeles Times )

William Wilson, who wrote art criticism for the Los Angeles Times for more than three decades, died Saturday after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years. He was 78.

Wilson, who was diagnosed with the disease four years ago, passed away peacefully in a care facility, according to an email distributed to his friends by artist Donald Lagerberg.

In his 33 years at The Times, Wilson reviewed numerous art museum exhibitions and wrote at length about famed artists such as Douanier Rousseau and Andy Warhol.

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“His opinion was of paramount importance to everyone interested in contemporary art,” recalled Josine Ianco-Starrels, former director of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. “What he thought informed them of what they ought to be thinking.... I loved him because he was honest and had a tongue that sliced smoothly all the way to the bone.”

His writing also helped bring attention to lesser-known artists, including Doug Wheeler, a now well-recognized founder of the Light and Space movement.

In one particularly memorable review, Wilson wrote of Wheeler's 1968 show at the Pasadena Art Museum: "Even modified, no normal architecture is prepared for such dustless purity. Every imperfect detail becomes a smudge -- the glow broken by the line of the floor, irregularities in the room. Footprints on the floor are as obscene as mud on a communion gown."

Wilson left The Times in 1999 to work on a book about the art history of L.A but continued to contribute to the paper as a freelance writer until 2001.

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"One of the things I have enjoyed most about my work is covering a tremendous panorama of art, from Egyptian antiquities to art that's hot off the griddle," Wilson said before departing the paper. "It has been a big challenge, a big opportunity and a big learning experience to write about everything from little community shows to connoisseurs' exhibitions of master drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens." 

A native Angeleno, Wilson received a bachelor's degree in design at UCLA and later pursued graduate study there in art history. While he was a student, he began writing as a freelance critic for The Times in 1965 and joined the staff one year after completing his studies. In 1978, after the paper's then-art critic Henry Seldis passed away, Wilson took over the position. 

In addition to writing, Wilson was also a teacher at numerous academic institutions including Cal State Fullerton, Santa Monica City College and UCLA Extension.

Memorial plans have yet to be announced.

A full obituary will follow on


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