Friday, September 21, 2007

phoenix and salamander

Astria Suparak and the boundaries

It sounds like a band.

Astria Suparak, founding director of the Warehouse Gallery , a contemporary art gallery overseen by Syracuse University, my alma mater, has been dismissed by Jeffrey Hoone, overseer of the university’s art centers. His explanation is that the gallery is being restructured. Carol Brzozowski, dean of the Crouse College of Visual and Performing Arts, my college, states that the content of the shows Suparak curated had nothing to do with her dismissal. Sure. Most folks in the know say differently, that it was Ms. Suparak’s choice of topics for exhibitions. The New York Times quotes Suparak as describing her aesthetic as “…street art, riot grrl and D.I.Y.” An article in the Syracuse New Times, my old favorite (my friend J used to sell classified ads for them, weren’t they personal ads, J?) describes her latest exhibit, “Desire Under the Female Gaze” in this manner:

“Female artists explicitly express desire, fantasy, disappointment and pleasure in a variety of mediums to counterbalance the ubiquitous imagery of sexualized female bodies created for mainstream media.” Got all that? if not, just check out the website. At Mr. Hoone’s request, a sign posted at the entrance to the gallery currently reads “This exhibit contains work generally intended for mature audiences.” Oh quick, Mr. Hoone, save us from ourselves! Thank you so much for that edifying sign. I expected it to be about our love of shoes and shopping.

What rankles me about this (and here let me state that I agree with the faculty and students that assert that this is due to choice of show content and not ‘gallery restructuring’), is that if we cannot explore the more controversial aspects of art (and here let me state that I HARDLY consider this topic - female desire and mainstream sexuality - controversial) at a relatively liberal and private university, where can we explore it? And how can we assert that an artistic, educational institution is a place of inspiration, revelation and innovation if we restrict it at its rawest edge?

Of course, this exhibit is most likely not the straw that broke the uptight camel’s back. I don’t wonder that it was more likely shows from the past, or perhaps even shows from Astria’s lexicon that were never intended to be in Syracuse. (Many totally fascinating, by the way - check out her past exhibits on her website.)

All this stinks of corporate ties and money, money, money. Who is Syracuse University displeasing by keeping Astria and her partner Brett Kashmere on the payroll? Or is it a case of the right person for the job being offed in order to give her position to someone who brings more corporate money with them? It will be interesting to see who fills Astria’s sizeable, forward thinking and extremely funky shoes. I predict a safer, extremely calculated and dry replacement. Who is male.

Astria will be fine. She is a tremendous art mind, and her talents will be welcomed many many places where the powers are fearless and wise. That is where she belongs.

We, as students, faculty and alumni of Syracuse University and Crouse College, will not be so fine. We are discovering our pride in the limitless possibilities we were charged to develop sullied by the arbitrary boundaries enforced by a small group of people who have not our artistic freedom as a priority but corporate bargaining and abuse of power. Our trust and faith is broken. Where is S.U.’s spirit? Why are you no longer brave?

If you’d like to learn more about this situation, and voice your opinion, please check out the blog:

Artnow Online - The MAG

Breaking News: Syracuse's arts community has been rocked with news of the dismissal of Astria Suparak, director and curator of The Warehouse Gallery, which is affiliated with Syracuse University. A campaign of blog entries, letters, e-mails, and letters to the editor in support of Suparak has been launched.

Saul Levine

To whom it may concern

I have recently become aware that Astria Suparak was fired from her position at the WAREHOUSE GALLERY. I find this very disturbing as I think of her as one of the most exciting young curators. I first met her when I was part of the BIG AS LIFE SHOW (AHISTORY OF SMALL GUAGE FILMMAKEING) which she was part of helping to organize at MOMA. Since then I have often run into her at film festivals and have invited her to bring programs of moving image work to the MASS ART FILM SOCIETY on numerous occasions. She is an extremely intelligent, articulate, hard working curator with a deep knowledge of film, video, new media, performance, and contemporary art in general. She has always put into practice a commitment to young artists of diverse backgrounds that do ground breaking work. She is actively supportive and constantly alert to what is really happening in art as both a curator, theorist, and as an artist.. I was extremely happy to learn that she had found a place to carry on her work in Syracuse and am disappointed that this has turned out not to be the case! If you really go thorough with her dismissal it is your loss and you shame!

Saul Levine

Professor film/video Media and Performing Arts
Massachusettes College of Art and Design

Yvonne Buchanan

Jeffrey Hoone, Executive Director, CMAC
Nancy Cantor, Chancellor
Eric Spina, Vice Chancellor/Provost
Carole Brzozowski, Dean of CVPA

I would like to voice my opinion on both the canceling of the Yes Men
and the firing of Astria Suparak, curator/director of the Warehouse
Gallery. The shows at the Warehouse under the stewardship of Ms.
Suparack have been exciting, dynamic, and to use a much over used but
accurate phrase in this case, cutting age. It is important to all the
students at Syracuse University, and the broader community at large, to
have opportunities to engage with highly conceptual, contemporary art
and activities like the Yes Men, that shifts art and art making out of
it's commodity and decorative position into social action.

I am very disappointed by what is occurring and would ask that the
reasons behind these actions be made public. I spoke with Ms. Suparack
at my opening in Buffalo on September 14, and at that time she was
baffled, bewildered and had been given no explanation as to why she was
being fired. Given the exemplary job she has done in the last year, I
too am puzzled.

In my opinion, instances of unfairness and non-transparent actions
have a history at Syracuse University, in particular effecting women
and men of color. In this case it would be helpful to take a step
forward and have this situation resolved in a positive way during our
year of "Justice".

Thank you,

Respectfully, Yvonne Buchanan
Assistant Professor, Illustration Program
Department of Art.

Jim Supanick

Dear Mr. Hoone and CMAC Staff,

I'm writing in support of Astria Suparak and the outstanding work she's done at the Warehouse Gallery and as an independent curator. I first became aware of Astria's work while she was still a student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn; I was amazed then to learn that some of the most sophisticated and adventurous film programming in all of New York City was being done by a student, and with little institutional support. Astria brought light and life to the moving image community far beyond the capacity of the rest of us mere mortals- and this, in a city where there's no shortage of brilliance from other sources. After Pratt she continued in this vein as an independent curator, quickly establishing herself as tireless, gutsy, and brimming with creative ideas- though I never worked with her, I can say that artists who have wish there were a few more like her. When she was hired as a curator for the Warehouse Gallery, I was thrilled to know that Syracuse had made such an enlightened choice.

It's not too late to reinstate Astria; in fact, I believe it would be seen as a wise and sensitive response to the outpouring of community support. I hope that clarity will return to you and the CMAC braintrust, that same clarity that led you to bring Astria aboard to begin with- she is a gem that you shouldn't want to lose.


Jim Supanick
Brooklyn, NY

Post-Standard Article -- Sean Kirst

Hundreds turn out to support curator

Friday, September 21, 2007
Sean Kirst
Post-Standard Columnist

Hundreds of people were out walking Thursday evening on West Fayette Street. They stopped at the Delavan Art Gallery. They moved in and out of a jammed house at The Warehouse Gallery. They crossed the street to see an exhibit at the Redhouse.

Once they got there, they could not miss the big message that Redhouse managing director Natalia Mount wrote in chalk on the facade:

“Fight 4 creative freedom! Down with censorship!”

Mount said she wrote those words on general principle, and to demonstrate some new innovations at the Redhouse, where the staff wants to find a way to use chalk for spontaneous public art.

But Mount said she also wrote that message as a tribute to Astria Suparak, director and curator of Syracuse University’s nearby Warehouse Gallery, who learned this month that she is losing her job.

“I cannot imagine, for Astria, how this must feel,” Mount said. Jeffrey Hoone, who fired Suparak, says censorship was not the issue. He said the decision was based on personnel matters that are impossible to publicly discuss.

The appeal of The Warehouse, he predicted, will only grow stronger. “We’re really looking to the future with this gallery,” said Hoone, executive director of SU’s Coalition of Museums and Art Centers. The jagged feelings over Suparak’s release, he said, are “something we need to get through in order to build that space.”

The decision has brought the arts community to a boil, and incited open rebellion by some members of the SU faculty. Many maintain the firing is related to Suparak’s willingness to go out on the edge in such shows as "Come On: Desire Under the Female Gaze,” which includes male genitalia and homosexual intimacy.

Yet Courtney Rile, marketing and public relations director at the Delavan, said Suparak also has a “poignant” touch, and that her shows often focus on communal themes.

“She did one (show) called ‘Embracing Winter,’ and it had a 17-foot mitten,” Rile said. “Come on. Everyone in Syracuse can embrace that, and knows what it means.”

As for Suparak, 29, who mingled Thursday with supporters, she said she was “treated horribly” by Hoone, and that he told her that her work did not meet his standards.

What was lost on no one, on either side of the divide, was the way Thursday’s outpouring rose toward meeting the original vision for The Warehouse. When SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor proposed turning an old downtown furniture warehouse into classroom and gallery space, she spoke of a bond between the campus and the city that would bring life to dormant downtown streets.

That vibrancy was evident Thursday. Rile, of the Delavan, rode along as a guide on an “art bus” that brought dozens of art lovers from Rochester to Syracuse for a gallery tour, a new connection scheduled to routinely link galleries in the two cities. At the packed Warehouse Gallery, many locals in the crowd said they came in support of Suparak.

The real question is what happens on West Fayette Street, once she’s gone.

Kate Clark, who chairs the public arts task force of the community group known as 40 Below, said Suparak’s commitment to the city extended beyond SU. Clark said Suparak was a regular at city-coordinated Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today meetings for downtown, and that she provided hands-on advice for the “totem” project that turned old parking meter holders into totem poles.

“For me,” Clark said, “Astria has been a huge leader in the public arts in Syracuse.”

Mount and Marianne Dalton, gallery director at the Redhouse, spoke with regret of how Suparak’s departure will cost Syracuse a visit from the Yes Men, a group that identifies its members as “imposters” who run carefully orchestrated spoofs that lacerate international corporate policies.

The Yes Men, Mount said, could have drawn a curious mainstream crowd to the gallery district. They announced this week they will not come if Suparak is gone.

“It’s unbelievable, as a curator, to think about having your vision severed like that,” Dalton said. She said that Suparak “put us on the map.”

Many visitors said the university, if it had substantial grounds for the firing, should offer a detailed public explanation. Both Hoone and an SU spokesman said they can’t do it. But they said the debate proves how much the community has grown to care about The Warehouse, energy that Hoone contends will not leave with Suparak.

“In an odd way,” he said, “what this shows us is that we’re right on target to fill the need.”

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard. His columns appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Suparak: Stay or go? The campaign to save Astria Suparak’s job at The Warehouse Gallery has gathered many messages of support at Columnist Sean Kirst would like to know your feelings on the decision. Contact him by visiting his blog and forum at, by e-mailing him at, or by writing to him in care of The Post-Standard, Clinton Square, Syracuse 13221.

Post-Standard Blog -- Sean Kirst

The Astria Suparak firing: Up or down for West Fayette?

September 21, 2007 12:10AM
Posted by Sean Kirst


I had a few thoughts as I watched hundreds of art lovers Thursday night moving from The Delavan to The Red House to The Warehouse, along West Fayette Street.

I thought of how this would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, when The Warehouse was a warehouse and The Redhouse was a battered old tavern.

I thought of how incredible it would be, in this budding gallery district, if those chipped and battered railroad bridges were handed over to teams of artists as enormous examples of public art.

I thought of how much this district might achieve if this $56 million investment on the Near West Side comes to be.

And I thought of the irony of how this great burst of energy on a downtown street was potentially a form of a goodbye, touched off by the firing of a person hired with the mission of helping to generate that energy.

Astria Suparak, curator of The Warehouse Gallery, has been dismissed by the university. Jeffrey Hoone, the university official who dismissed her, said he is constrained from speaking publicly of the reasons, constraints that go with any personnel decision. In that void, angry members of the arts community contend that Suparak was let go for reasons from censorship to institutional jealousy at her success.

You can read many of those arguments in this blog, much of it assembled by Joanna Spitzner, an assistant professor at SU and one of those organizing support for Suparak.

I lead off the reader response with this note from Lonnie Chu, an instructor at SU and a community activist in Eastwood.

And I look forward to hearing your thoughts, one way or another, regarding West Fayette - and what happens after Suparak.

- Sean

Posted by sean on 09/21/07 at 12:32AM

A note from Lonnie Chu of Eastwood, whose e-mail first alerted me to the breadth of the reaction to Suparak's firing:


I am outraged that Astria Suparak would be dismissed so suddenly and with so little transparency to the community. But I am not alone. I have been following with great interest the incredible number of letters of support, heartfelt and well written, that have been appearing on the Syracuse Warehouse blog
( They come from not only Syracuse, but from other cities, other states, even other countries.

Astria is a treasure that the city and the university need to support and nurture, for she is a one-woman Connective Corridor, making art fun, accessible, perhaps troubling, but always exciting.

There have been a number of themes expressed by those writing in. I'd like to summarize some of them here.

- Astria is a curator of international renown and unimpeachable professionalism. Letters of support have come in from students, professors at Syracuse University, and other places such as New York, Troy, Toronto, Montreal and Texas A&M University. She is highlighted in "The World's Leading Art Magazine":

Syracuse Arts Community Unwilling to Let Dismissed Curator Go.

- Astria is a magnet that has attracted people to live in the city and artists to do shows here. In fact, "The Yes Men" agreed to come here because of Astria and have thus canceled their November exhibit because of her dismissal. It is not the Warehouse, it is Astria in the Warehouse that is attracting these artists. Without her, they don't want to be here. We can look forward to an exodus of those who came because of the excitement her work has generated and we can go back to getting used to being known as a "loser city."

- Astria has the skill and takes the time to build relationships with community members, organizations and businesses. She's been active in the downtown TNT and she and her visiting artists use the services and products of local vendors.

- The Warehouse Gallery does not just happen. It takes vision and connections like Astria's to make all of this happen. If she is made to leave, all of her work stops. Relationships will have been severed, trust will have been betrayed. Once that happens, it's very hard to start it up again. To paraphrase one writer, if you dynamite this span in the bridge that is the Connective Corridor, the whole thing can collapse. Astria's work has inspired hope in city residents. Take that away, and much of the progress we've been making can reverse itself.

- The timing of this dismissal does not bode well. Just when the most recent show, "COME ON: Desire Under The Female Gaze" is opening, and just when The Yes Men are about to come to town, Astria is suddenly fired. As one writer pointed out, it is very ironic that we learn of her dismissal on the same day as the Newhouse III dedication. Emblazoned on the outside wall of that building are the words of the First Amendment of the Constitution that protect freedom of speech. Yet Astria was made to change the original title for "COME ON" - apparently a "feminist gaze" was not acceptable. Now the appearance is that the entire theme is unacceptable. This may not be the case, but the impression it gives the outside world is seriously detrimental to Syracuse.

Caroline Szozda, Gallery Manager of the Delavan Art Gallery, expresses eloquently why Astria's dismissal is such a loss to Syracuse:

"Since opening in 2006, through Astria, the Warehouse Gallery has helped become a cornerstone of the area art scene going well beyond just the visual arts. In a very short period of time, it has gained a solid following from the students, artists and the community at large. She has been able to put together exciting, interesting events and exhibitions that most people would never suspect would/could happen in Syracuse. Through her work, she has helped enrich, rejuvenate and energize the people and community around her."

It is not too late to reinstate her. Syracuse does not have to be the loser any more.

Lonnie Chu

Harrison Willis

Dear Mr. Hoone, Ms. Cantor

The issue in question here is not whether you are
dedicated to improving the arts community here in
Syracuse, as you have certainly done so with all that
you've done for Lightworks. The issue in question is
your motives in terminating Astria's position as
curator of the Warehouse gallery.

I would love, for once, to hear from someone who has
those vital points of funding and contact (as you do
in Tom Walsh, and Mr. Menschel as well) that a
University or Corporation so desperately desires, lay
an answer straight to those in the community they
"serve" about why something unjust is being done,
instead of cloaking themselves with the legal baby
blanket of "confidentiality."

I would love to hear something other than bullshit. I
would love to receive a letter from you, or Nancy
Cantor, that isn't an automated safeguard intended to
escort you through this "rough patch" while beloved
and talented members of our arts community fall under
a singular opinion with no checks or balances on the
power you currently possess. I would like to know why
it is your final word who is and who isn't allowed to
remain staffed in the museums run by our university. I
would love to know what qualifies you to be the end
all say all of a highly diverse and mature community
(which, by the way, can assuredly handle a little
sexuality and a little controversy, something it in
fact needs very much to grow) when there are denizens
of more qualified, unbiased, and open minded
individuals who could easily perform the job.

I would love for you to first explain why CMAC exists
in the first place. Before seeing Astria dragged
through the coals I had never heard of CMAC, and at
this point with the current decisions I'm seeing it
carry out as an "umbrella executive" of the museums in
syracuse, I have nothing but bad words for it. I would
love to know why the warehouse gallery is better off
under such a totalitarian power structure rather than
existing as an autonomous art space.

In short, I would like to know why your singular
opinion of Mrs. Suparak, whatever your "confidential"
vendetta may be against her, overrides the resounding
voice of the syracuse arts community in deciding
whether or not she stays or goes. All of the money in
Manhattan, from all of the power brokers the
university and yourself are able to milk for money,
wont buy back the reputation Syracuse is building for
its arts community. In fact, if this decision is not
constructively reversed, no matter how much you claim
to support the arts, the warehouse, and this
community; no matter how much bankfat you can muster,
this area will become permanently bankrupt in the eyes
of the arts internationally.

Please, please, PLEASE, think about what you are


- Harrison Willis

Ben Gembler


Although I’m on the periphery of the issue, I must say that I’ve enjoyed having the gallery and the creativity, color and excitement of the shows that have come there. We need that in Syracuse. It’s fresh, it’s exciting and it’s unique. It would be a shame if Ms. Suparak’s departure had something to do with this. Keeping the quality content of exhibitions should remain in gallery restructuring plans.

Thank you,

Ben Gembler

New York Times article -- Nadja Sayej

[ reprinted from The New York Times September 21 2007. LINK ]

Gallery Director’s Dismissal Ignites Syracuse Protest

The ouster of the founding director of an art gallery overseen by Syracuse University has drawn protest from academics and art professionals there. The director, Astria Suparak, below, of the Warehouse Gallery, said that Jeffrey Hoone, who oversees the university’s art centers, had told her on Sept. 7 that she would be dismissed effective Sept. 30. She said he did not give a reason beyond saying that the gallery was being restructured. (In a telephone interview, Mr. Hoone said he could not discuss Ms. Suparak but that he was revamping the gallery’s leadership.) Carole Brzozowski, the dean of Syracuse University, said the content of gallery shows organized by Ms. Suparak had nothing to do with her dismissal. But people in the arts at Syracuse, including university art teachers, asserted that the ouster was related to risk-taking or innovative exhibitions she organized since becoming the director last year. (Many have posted protests of her dismissal at Ms. Suparak said of Mr. Hoone: “My aesthetic is very different from his. I’m interested in street art, riot grrl and D.I.Y. aesthetics.” A sign at the entrance to the gallery’s current show, “Come On: Desire Under the Female Gaze,” reads, “This exhibition contains work generally intended for mature audiences.” Ms. Suparak said it was posted at Mr. Hoone’s behest. NADJA SAYEJ


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.