Brian O’Doherty, 94, Art Host
Excerpts from The New York Times – 11/14/2022
A restless Irish polymath who had trained as a doctor in Dublin, he found his way to New York and became a leading figure in the city’s bustling art scene….
Brian O’Doherty, an Irish polymath who in the early 1960s left his medical career behind to reinvent himself as a leading figure in the New York art scene, both as a critic and as a creator, died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 94.
His wife, Barbara Novak, confirmed the death.
Mr. O’Doherty made his mark in a wide range of cultural endeavors: He worked as a journalist, an editor, an artist, a documentarian and, late in life, an acclaimed novelist….
By the time he received a master’s degree, in 1960, Mr. O’Doherty had largely left medicine behind. He applied to be the host of a half-hour program about art, broadcast on the public television station WGBH in Boston. He got the job thanks to the support of his predecessor, Dr. Novak, whom he then started dating.
Memories from colleagues
Paul Noble: He wrote and hosted “Invitation to Art” from the Museum of Fine Arts in live broadcasts Monday nights for three years before leaving for New York with bride Barbara Novak in 1961. A uniquely multi-talented artist, writer, critic, novelist.
Fred Barzyk: WGBH’s first TV personality when he did a show at the MFA. Then, NBC offered him his own show, he moved to NYC, the format failed, and then Brian became the Art Critic for the Today show for 12 years. He was editor of the nation’s most important art magazine, Art in America. He gave that up to move to Washington to the NEA. While there he helped fund the Video Art Movement (WGBH and I benefited a lot) and poured more monies into artists’ hands. A wonderful and empathetic artist and critic.
I wish to share with you all my first experiences with Brian. I was a grad student at BU, working 3 days a week at WGBH. It was over a drugstore in an old roller-skating rink. I was on a scholarship, which meant my roommate and I almost made it week to week. Never ate so many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The big shows were the Boston Symphony and Invitation to Art. I never worked on the MFA show. Brian was in many ways the first WGBH star. The kinescopes of the show were bicycled around to the other stations.
WGBH decided to put together a sampling of its shows as a fund-raiser. I was sitting at my desk and Brian walks up to me and asks what section of what show should he choose for this sampler. I was overwhelmed that he was asking me, but I blurted out about a show where he kept the camera going in — closer and closer to the smallest part of the painting, showcasing a wonderful group of people. I told him it was perfect use of TV.
Then the world turned upside down. Weeks later, Brian asks me out to lunch, ME, a kid from the South Side of Milwaukee. I was just a poor grad student trying to get into the business. What am I going to talk about?
We met at Kens in Copley Square. He bought me a Corn Beef Sandwich! I practically died, lucious meat. I am not even sure what we talked about. Then he took me up to his apartment and looked at his paintings. I was in dream … here was this artist, critic, writer spending time with me … a nobody.
This gesture changed me forever.
And Brain’s caring never stopped. Years later, he heard that I was having trouble with my knees, and HE CALLS ME UP AT HOME and suggests several exercises that might help my knees. This is way beyond friendship.
I am one hell of a lucky person to have shared time with this amazing man.
My heart is breaking today.
Being a part of the team shooting Brian O’Doherity’s “Invitation to Art” was one of the highlights of my time as a WGBH BU Scholar in 1960-61. Roaming the darkened exhibit halls of the museum during breaks between rehearsal and taping are part of the cherished memories of my time at 84 Mass Ave!
Being in Brian O’Doherty’s energetic, elegant, and articulate presence elevated one’s appreciation of art, inquiry, and the potential of what was then educational broadcasting. He was an inspiring on-air host and interpreter of the MFA’s collections. Working as a young WGBH Scholar on INVITATION TO ART as a crew member back in 1960-61 was for me an inspiring privilege.