Archive for May 10, 2010

Dispatches from the future (a.k.a. Australia)

The irony of the situation in which I find myself isn’t lost on me: I spent the spring semester teaching a course at ASU about writing art and design criticism, much of which we spent discussing the demise of the newspaper as we know it and the uncertain state of art criticism in general, and here I am, in Sydney, Australia, to write about art.

This grand experiment is courtesy of ASU, but I should note at this point that all the opinions here, particularly the ones anybody finds offensive, are mine and mine alone.

I would also like to point out that I am  jet-lagged in a way that redefines jet-lag for me, as traveling into the future is no small matter, and to apologize in advance for all lapses in spelling, grammar, logic, etc.

So, on to Blog Post the First, in which, on the shuttle from the Sydney airport to the hotel, I sit next to an independent curator and artist named Leah Gordon, who co-curated The Ghetto Biennale ( in Haiti. She’s here to speak on a panel about poverty, freedom, and rights, with none other than Enrique Chagoya, among others. (A side note: She’ll be curating a show in Los Angeles next year, which will no doubt be worth the road trip from Phoenix.)

Here’s a photo of Leah at the airport wearing sunglasses, which are as essential here in Sydney as they are in the Arizona desert:

Biennale Artistic Director David Elliott selected 166 artists from 36 different countries, and not just one but two of those are Phoenix artists — three if you count Enrique Chagoya, who is represented by Scottsdale’s Lisa Sette Gallery and has a connection to Marilyn Zeitlin and the ASU Art Museum. The beauty part of the three artists selected is the fact that two of them, Chagoya and Claudio Dicochea, were born in Mexico, thereby underscoring the very rich Arizona-Mexico connection that people like Russell Pearce (co-sponsor of SB 1070, the new Arizona immigration law) would like to ignore, if not erase altogether.

It was sad but not surprising to learn that Arizona’s new law made the papers in England, where Leah read and wondered about it, but it made me proud to talk with her about the fine and original work that Chagoya, Dicochea, and Angela Ellsworth are doing. In a not-so-small way, Arizona’s presence here in Sydney will help give the world a different impression of what Arizona is. Now all Arizona has to do is live up to that different impression….

Speaking of impressions of Phoenix: We were able to follow the Suns game here via text message updates, and I’d just like to say: a) Steve Nash is some kind of one-eyed superhero, and  b) viva los Suns!

– Deborah Sussman Susser

May 10, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Blogging Down Under – From the 2010 Sydney Biennale

Bridging “The Beauty of Distance”: ASU’s Herberger Institute School of Art instigates critical writing dispatches from the 2010 Sydney Biennale

When this year’s artist selections for the 17th Biennale of Sydney were announced by curator David Elliot, I was thrilled as the new Director of the School of Art and recent transplant to the PHX region to see a faculty member, Angela Ellsworth, and alumnus, Claudio DiCochea, on the list. Another talented artist in the region, Enrique Chagoya was also listed, and the regional asociations continued to gain momentum as cultural agent Bruce Ferguson, director of F.A.R. @ASU (in transition to become Dean of Humanities and Social Science at the American University of Cairo) was invited to write a major essay for the biennial catalogue, and a number of young graduate student performers and artists from the Schools of Art and Dance at ASU were tapped to participate in Ellsworth’s performance contribution “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”

As all of this was brewing, a series of meetings among those of us who care about arts writing in the region (organized by former senior curator of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Claire Schneider and including curators, writers, educators and publishers across the metro region) were taking place. As an artist, I’m keenly aware of the important role strong critical  writing can play in strengthening the work of artists, and catalyzing interpretation and discussion amongst a cultural community. In light of this, I began offering classes this Spring term in Art and Design Criticism, and hired local arts writer Deborah Sussman Susser to teach them. Sussman Susser’s enthusiasm for stimulating thought and written communication are evident, but the issues that underlay each week’s course offering circled back to the question of the future of art criticism at a time when arts staff writers are few, and arts writers are paid exceptionally poorly, if at all. What are some new communication models that support critical engagement with artwork?

It is in this spirit of questioning, and from the vantage point of the School of Art’s mission to foster creativity beyond the walls of its studios and classrooms, that we have invited Sussman Susser to offer her critical viewpoints in on-the-spot twice daily (perhaps more!) blog entries from Sydney. Equipped with a laptop, digital still/video camera and a knowledge of art and the region, she is well-prepared to translate her observations and experiences into timely and relevant reading. Her blog is live now, as you read this, at and will continue through the first week of opening events of the Biennial (5-9 to 5/15), and will include offerings on the openings, performances, and panels that feature artists and envoys from our region.

Bookmark the page and revisit it throughout the next week – to read, comment, and be a part of this experiment in arts writing, and spotlight of another side of our regional culture in the weeks following passage of SB1070. In addition to Sussman Susser’s dispatches, local writer Tania Katan will also be blogging at, and Phoenix New Times’ new art and culture blog, Jackalope Ranch, will also be posting on the Bieniial activities.

Deborah Sussman Susser is a writer and editor living in Tempe, Arizona. The associate editor of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, she teaches a course on writing art and design criticism at Arizona State University, and co-teaches the creative writing workshop “Mothers Who Write” through the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Her reviews have been published in Art in America, ArtNews, the Washington Post, and The New York Times, as well as on

Thanks to our partners at the Herberger Institutute for Design and the Arts, and the ASU Art Museum for hosting and supporting this venture.

Relevant Sites:

Adriene Jenik

Professor and Director, School of Art

Katherine K. Herberger Endowed Chair in Fine Arts

Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Arizona State University

May 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm

May 2010

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