Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Daily Orange Article -- Megan Saucke

[ original posting here.
The Daily Orange September 19 2007]

Art Directors Firing Stuns Syracuse

The sudden firing of The Warehouse Gallery's director left many in the Syracuse University community shocked and dismayed.

For most, including the dismissed director, Astria Suparak, the decision was mysterious and unexpected.

"I haven't talked to one person who wasn't shocked and appalled," said Allison Fox, a College of Visual and Performing Arts graduate student.

Recent SU graduate and former intern at the gallery Katie Skelly called the decision "unthinkable. … I really can't imagine what she could have done to make them fire her."

Jeffrey Hoone, executive director of the Coalition of Museums and Art Centers, took responsibility for Suparak's firing.

"Nobody else made this decision for me," Hoone said. "I made this decision in consultation with the human resources department."

Suparak, who has worked as curator and director of the gallery since June 2006, was given notice this past week. Since then, e-mails have been flying back and forth among faculty, students, artists and curators from all across the country trying to figure out what Hoone's reasoning could be.

The future of an upcoming exhibit by The Yes Men, a group of activists, has been in question since the announcement of Suparak's termination.

The Warehouse Gallery Web site stated that the exhibit had been canceled. This provoked a public outcry, especially from professors who had invested in it financially and had already incorporated the exhibit into their curriculum.

Hoone announced that he plans to work to keep the exhibit on the schedule and that he never canceled it in the first place.

Suparak, however, believes otherwise.

"He definitely told me it was canceled, and I asked very specifically," Suparak said.

Either way, there is a question whether The Yes Men will even do the show anymore without Suparak as director.

"I don't think they're going to come here without Astria," says Joanna Spitzner, a professor in the Foundation program at VPA. Hoone "hasn't developed that relationship with them."

"This is a bad decision that's really going to have serious implications for the future of the city's cultural life and spirit," said Tom Sherman, a professor of video and media theory.

Sherman said the firing has more to do with the current exhibit, "COME ON: Desire Under the Female Gaze," than The Yes Men. He said the original title of the current show contained the word "feminist," and Hoone demanded it be censored out.

Suparak agreed that Hoone did not want the word in the title of the exhibit. She said she had to change the title two additional times because Hoone didn't like the revised title.

Hoone denied that there was any controversy surrounding the exhibit.

An informational postcard about the exhibit was withdrawn from the prepared packages for first-year students at the last minute. The decision to do so was made by members of the Chancellor's Cabinet and Office of Public Affairs.

Suparak said she was surprised by this action because the design had been specifically approved for the packages.

The question of why Suparak was fired has still not been directly answered.

"I was not given a reason when I was fired," Suparak said. "He told me that he had high standards, and this was really confusing to me because I really feel like I've done a lot with my time here."

Hoone said legally there are things he cannot disclose. When asked to be more specific about Suparak's shortcomings to justify his decision, he began discussing window displays.

"This is personnel change," Hoone said, "in order to get the best mix of people and resources together to do that."

Supporters in Syracuse and across the country have mobilized in support of Suparak. A letter-writing campaign started at

Suparak's supporters said she has fulfilled the gallery's mission beyond expectations. VPA professor Spitzner said Suparak has an "ability to connect with really interesting artists."

n fact, some have moved to the Syracuse area because of their desire to work with Suparak.

"I was looking for a job already, but meeting her really convinced me to take the job at Syracuse," said Frank Olive, assistant director at The Warehouse Gallery

Students also said she was doing a great job in enriching their experiences.

"She's definitely making this place younger, hipper, which we need desperately," said Stephanie Koenig, a VPA graduate student.

The blog, which was created in response to her firing, has an outpouring of support from the community. Many posts have mentioned surprise that Chancellor Nancy Cantor has not come out in support of Suparak.

Jan Pottie, a personal friend of Suparak's, said Suparak is very involved with committees having to do with Syracuse's art community such as the Public Arts Task Force and the Public Arts Commission.

Those supporting Suparak said her dedication and involvement in bridging the gap between the university and the downtown community runs parallel to Cantor's own vision of the Connective Corridor.

"Astria is organized, conscientious and precise," Pottie said. "But what really sets her apart is that she treats every exhibition as a work of art in and of itself, often adding elements of her own to enhance the experience of the audience."

"Imagine Syracuse actually has a good football team for once, and we have a really good coach, and then suddenly that coach is fired," gallery intern Skelly said.

"Clearly what The Warehouse Gallery has been to this community has been very active and dynamic and valuable and that is completely recognized," Ann Clarke, VPA associate dean, said.

The overwhelming support for Suparak has not made Hoone doubt his decision, however unpopular.

"I feel very confident in the decision," he said.

Suparak, on the other hand, is devastated by the decision.

"I had been working on the next two years of programming, and that was very exciting for me," she said. "It's too bad that everything's been canceled by what seems to be the position of one person."


Anonymous said...

He isn't the Art Tsar for nothing.

His plan was to replace the Yes Men exhibition with an exhibition titled Gary Schneider: Genetic Self-Portrait which would turn the Warehouse into an exact duplicate of Light Work. The work shown at Light Work is fabulous and has its place.

There is no question that Jeffrey Hoone has worked hard and long to make Light Work what it is.

But Syracuse already has Light Work NOBODY needs or wants the Warehouse to become "Light Work 2".

Anonymous said...

...or another SUArt Galleries for that matter...

It is unique as it is now and is on a great path! It should stay the course.

Ed Cardoni, Hallwalls said...

I'm intrigued by the comment of Anonymous (the first one on today's date). Not being part of Syracuse's art scene, but of Buffalo's, I'm not in a position to judge the validity of Anonymous's characterization of Jeff Hoone as "the Art Tsar." However, I DO know that for an arts community to have an "Art Tsar," or for anyone to aspire to be a community's "Art Tsar" would be a bad thing. (I guess I'm an Art Bolshevik that way, though not to the point of execution by firing squad.)

More to the point, I, too, have admired Lightwork, and Jeff's founding and directing of it, for many, many years. Its support for and programming of exquisite photography and photography publications by important emerging and established American and world photographers (including some controversial ones) is of national and international stature, and is unique, even among centers of photography. Buffalo's own equally excellent CEPA is, for example, very different from its fellow photo gallery down the Thruway, just as CEPA and Hallwalls, though born in the same place and time, started out and have grown up very differently, though we still work together very well.

So I very much agree with Anonymous here: it would indeed be a bad idea to make the Warehouse a second Lightwork in Syracuse, "Lightwork 2" as Anonymous calls it, if that is what Jeff is up to or has in mind, even remotely or unconsciously. As an Upstate NY colleague, I would very much discourage Jeff from using his position as Executive Director of Syracuse U.'s Coalition of Museums and Art Centers, i.e., an administrator (though he apparently has every authority to do so), to put his own curatorial stamp on the Warehouse, let alone shows he has already curated for Lightwork. I find it works better for administrators (which I am, too) to let curators do their thing without executive interference. And my own more informed curators here at Hallwalls, and my many more informed colleagues across the country, are quickly convincing me that the Warehouse has its own strong curatorial identity, that it is Astria Suparak's vision (and the artists she has invited to show there) that has given it that identity, that it has been a tonic for Syracuse's contemporary visual art scene (and SU's arts departments), and that it would be sorely missed were it changed in the way some people, including Anonymous, fear.

Ed Cardoni, Hallwalls said...

P.S. Actually, I should've clicked on Anonymous's "hard and long" link first. It appears I was mistaken in believing Jeff was a founder of Lightwork; apparently he was hired in 1980, "only" 27 years ago (long enough!), but 7 years after Lightwork's founding in 1973, a year before Hallwalls' founding in 1974.

1980 was slightly before my time in the field (though not by much), so Jeff was director of Lightwork well before I got to Hallwalls, which was my entry into the field.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm astounded that for the last 2-3 years the university has given SO much time and SO many resources and SO much emphasis on The Arts, and withholding resources from other departments, and now this is what we get? Backbiting and fly by night firings and nonsense? Get your acts together, people. I have been part of the University community for 25 years and I have watched as this new regime has fallen all over itself tooting up the culture of the arts (not a bad thing) and totally trying to change the culture and THEN when push comes to shove this is what the rest of us have been suffering for? An administration with no backbone to even support what they've been relentlessly promoting?

You people at CMAC and the Warehouse, ALL of you, are an embarrassment. Shame on you. You are like a bunch of kids in a candy store, spoiled brats running around with your new toy - your new toy being Syracuse University - and then something like this happens.

How about getting off your duffs, coming up to campus and doing some performance art protests on behalf of this fired director? or do you only care about art if it looks good on your resume or if you get a big budget to do it or if it impresses the people in New York City?

Do you have the GUTS for real political art??? Do you have the NERVE? One wonders.


Syracuse has lost one its greatest assets. Astria Suparak, Inaugural Director of The Warehouse Gallery of Syracuse University, was removed from her position as of Sept. 30th, 2007, despite widespread support from community members, students, faculty, and the international art community. This decision was made unilaterally by Jeffrey Hoone, Executive Director of the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers (CMAC).

At the time of Suparak's dismissal, Hoone also canceled her forthcoming exhibitions, including "Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men," due to open in November 2007.