faculty profile

Bill Berkson
Professor Emeritus
History and Theory of Contemporary Art

Born in New York in 1939, Bill Berkson is a poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who has been active in the art and literary worlds since his early 20s. Between 1984 and 2008, he taught art history, critical writing and poetry at the San Francisco Art Institute, and directed the Letters and Science and public lectures programs. (He was also interim dean for one semester in 1992 and a Faculty Trustee 1986-1993.) After moving to Northern California in 1970, he began editing and publishing a series of poetry books and magazines under the Big Sky imprint. Before coming to the Art Institute, he taught regularly in the California Poets in the Schools program. In the mid-1980s he resumed writing art criticism on a regular basis, contributing monthly reviews and articles to Artforum from 1985 to 1991; he became a corresponding editor for Art in America in 1988 and also writes frequently for such magazines as Aperture, Modern Painters, Art on Paper, and others. As a curator he has organized or co-curated such exhibitions as Ronald Bladen: Early and Late (SFMoMA), Albert York (Mills College), Why Painting I & II (Susan Cummins Gallery), Homage to George Herriman (Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery), and Facing Eden: 100 years of Northern California Landscape Art (M.H. de Young Museum); and two exhibitions of George Schneeman’s Italian landscape paintings at CUE Foundation, New York, in 2003, and the Italian Cultural Center, San Francisco, in 2011. Past recipient of awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artspace, Yaddo, the Briarcombe Foundation, the Fund for Poetry, the Poets Foundation, and the American Academy in Rome, he was Distinguished Paul Mellon Lecturer for 2006 at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and was awarded the 2008 Goldie for Literature from the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Portrait and Dream won the Balcones Prize for Best Book of Poetry in 2010.

Selected Exhibitions: 

Collaborations with artists included in: Poems & Pictures (New York Center for the Book, 2010); Poets & Painters (Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 2010); Joe Brainard: A Retrospective (Berkeley Art Museum; P.S. 1, 2001).

Selected Publications: 

- Recent collections of poetry include Gloria, a portfolio of poems with etchings by Alex Katz (Arion Press, 2005); Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently (The Owl Press, 2007); Goods and Services (Blue Press, 2008); Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2009); and Lady Air (Perdika, 2010).

- Other books are The Sweet Singer of Modernism (Qua, 2004); What’s Your Idea of a Good Time: Letters & Interviews 1977-1985 with Bernadette Mayer (Tuumba Press, 2006); Sudden Address: Selected Lectures (Cuneiform Press, 2008); BILL with drawings by Colter Jacobsen (Gallery 16 Editions, 2008); Ted Berrigan with George Schneeman (Cuneiform Press, 2009); Not an Exit with Léonie Guyer (Jungle Garden Books, 2011); For the Ordinary Artist (BlazeVOX, 2011); and a collection of poetry in French translation, Parties du corps (Joca Seria, 2011).


Studied at Trinity School, The Lawrenceville School, Brown University, Columbia, The New School for Social Research, and New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.