City offers commission seat to dismissed Warehouse art director
September 26, 2007
By Megan Saucke
Astria Suparak's last day as director of The Warehouse Gallery will be Friday, but she might still play a significant role in the Syracuse art scene.
The Syracuse Common Council voted unanimously Monday to appoint Suparak to the city's Public Arts Commission. Earlier this month, she was dismissed from her position at the gallery.
"Her appointment legislation was actually done before her being let go," said Ryan McMahon, Syracuse common councilor. "She still has something to bring to the art community, so we thought that it was appropriate to nominate her."
While Suparak said she would like to take part in the 11-member volunteer commission, she is not sure if she will be able to stay in Syracuse.
Jeffrey Hoone, executive director of the Coalition of Museums and Art Centers at Syracuse University, took sole responsibility for dismissing Suparak on Sept. 7. He said firing Suparak is a part of restructuring the gallery's leadership, and that further details are confidential.
The Yes Men, a group of satirical imposters, whose act at the gallery was canceled earlier this month, said it will not exhibit at the gallery without Suparak.
"It's an honor to be respected by the city even if the university isn't going to," Suparak said Tuesday. She said the Public Arts Commission is an "important step" for the city of Syracuse.
The commission is responsible for creating a public art master plan "to enrich the visual and aesthetic environment of spaces within the City of Syracuse that are in some way accessible to the public," according to the Public Art Ordinance.
"It's clear that the city thinks Astria is important, and if the university doesn't make every effort to keep her here, they're making a big mistake," said Joanna Spitzner, a professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Suparak said she is waiting to see if the university will reinstate her. Failing to do so would be to "completely ignore the international art community and the community and its faculty, students, etc."
"I really don't know what the future holds for me. I've been trying to retain my position as director," she said. "If I can get a similar job with enough resources and staff to make an impact and make a difference, I would like to stay."
Despite receiving dozens of e-mails protesting the decision, Cantor continued her support of Hoone's decision to dismiss Suparak.
"This is a personnel decision and my role in that case is to make sure it was handled in an appropriate manner through our human resources department," Cantor said in an interview. "I assured myself that indeed there had been a process in place, and it had gone through appropriate channels."
Tom Sherman, professor of video and media theory, said as head of the gallery, Suparak was in line with the university's mission.
"In her job as a curator, she really did go out into the city and build bridges to the city like the university always talks about building," Sherman said.
Both Cantor and Hoone said the firing had nothing to do with censorship. But critics have raised questions concerning an exhibit called "COME ON: Desire under the female gaze," which is currently on display.
"This is specifically about working relationships in The Warehouse Gallery and restructuring The Warehouse Gallery going forth," Cantor said.
In mid-August, Hoone received an e-mail representing Cantor's cabinet that raised questions about the timing of the exhibit. In the e-mail, Matthew Snyder, director of communications and media relations for the division of student affairs, told Hoone that ads for the exhibit would be taken out of a packet given to incoming freshmen.
Hoone provided the e-mail to The Daily Orange on Tuesday after declining an interview.
Hoone always defended the decision to bring "COME ON" to the gallery, Cantor said, which features erotic sketches of men and women and exposure to genitals.
In his response to Snyder, Hoone wrote that the "work responds to our daily barrage of images that objectify young girls and women in the media. This is an issue that is very relevant to our student population and is consistent with our mission as an institution."
About 400 people attended the exhibit's opening on Sept. 20.
The Yes Men
The Yes Men, a group originally scheduled to come to The Warehouse from November to January, confirmed it will not exhibit without Suparak as the gallery's director.
"Astria was putting in the work to make up for the time that we didn't have," said Mike Bonanno, the group's co-founder. "So once she was gone, there was no way that we could expect to be able to do the show."
The act, which is controversial for its anti-capitalist statements, was canceled earlier this month, according to The Warehouse's Web site. Hoone said he didn't cancel the show and still wants the group to come.
Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum founded The Yes Men, currently based in New York City, in 1999.
The act wasn't able to attend the Seattle protest against the World Trade Organization, so it created a satirical Web site. When the site was mistaken for the real thing, it got invited to speak at conferences.
The Yes Men have since made many appearances impersonating people in power such as Halliburton executives and other CEOs. Bichlbaum describes it as "dramatizing the criminality that goes on."
"Students really connect with the issues that they're calling attention to and also the way they do it because it's fun, it's playful," professor Spitzner said. "But it makes you really think a lot about our society and the role that corporations play in it."