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From Belgrade to Tempe: Maida Gruden

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program hosted Maida Gruden — art historian, curator and CEC ArtsLink Fellow for 2014. Here’s a firsthand look at her time with us in Arizona:

As a visiting curator at the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program at Combine Studios, I was provided firsthand knowledge of a residency program with an excellent organization and productive working calendar.

On October 9, the same day I arrived in Phoenix, my lovely hosts Estrella Payton and Greg Esser took me to a welcome reception (at Peter Held’s home) for Garth Johnson, incoming curator of ceramics for the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center. I met Gordon Knox, director of the ASU Art Museum and a number of people working for the museum, as well as students who were invited to the reception. I had a wonderful evening making a good start in connecting with people of the Phoenix art community.

Photo by Maida Gruden, pictured, at right.

With curator Peter Held, ceramic artist Heather Couch and ASU Art Museum Director Gordon Knox. 

The next day Greg took me to the official grand opening of the new Changing Hands Bookstore at The Newton. This incredible bookstore with a bar and a restaurant was officially opened by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. I met the mayor of Phoenix and it was just the second day of my residency!

Phoenix mayor Greg Standon (left) and Maida Gruden.

With Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. 

Getting acquainted with the neighborhood of the Roosevelt Row Arts District, in the urban core of downtown Phoenix, demonstrated how art can play an important role in society and community. I was fascinated with how Roosevelt Row fostered an urban renewal and is still doing it. It was such a pleasure to live in this neighborhood during the residency.

From Roosevelt Row, I was going to Tempe on a daily basis to meet students and their professors in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts School of Art. Since my focus of research is in photography, I met with graduate photography students in their seminar class with professor William (Bill) Jenkins. They wanted to know more about the artist-in-residence program for young photographers that I am developing at the Student’s City Cultural Center in Belgrade. We arranged the schedule for me to visit each of them in their studios.


With Graduate students in photography at ASU and Professor Bill Jenkins (far left).

During the next week, I visited the ASU School of Art Grant Street Studios in downtown Phoenix and I viewed the work of graduate students including Clarita Lulić, Ryan Parra, Thomas Locke Hobbs, Samantha Lyn Aasen, Buzzy Sullivan, Ashley Czajkowski, Monica Garcia, Taylor James and Pam Golden. I was delighted by the diversity of their work as well as their capacity to develop their own specific photographic language. I am glad I had a chance to visit their group exhibition at ASU School of Art Night Gallery at Tempe Marketplace, an experimental space that explores the newly conceived role a university can play outside of its expected domain.

Studio visit with artist Clarita Lulic.

Studio visit with artist Clarita Lulic.

I had a brief opportunity to attend the installation of the exhibition FAMILY MATTERS, revisited together with undergraduate students in photography and Professor Liz Allen, director of the Northlight Gallery on ASU’s Tempe campus. The exhibition opened on October 21 and on that occasion I had a chance to meet exhibiting artists Marivi Ortiz and H. Jennings Sheffield, as well as ASU professors in photography Mark Klett and Stephen Marc Smith.

In Northlight Gallery with Professor Liz Allen (at left).

In Northlight Gallery with Professor Liz Allen (at left).

My further research of student’s work and curriculum expanded into intermedia. It was a pleasure to host Professor Gregory Sale and his students in Intermedia (Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts) in the common room at Combine Studios. We shared our experiences discussing community-based projects in Arizona and Serbia. The atmosphere was informal but a very inspiring one, and we had a wonderful time talking to each other. I learned a lot from each of them. The meeting was organized with the support from Greg and Estrella, who were also participating in the conversation. I visited Gregory Sale’s class again the following week in the Tower Building on ASU’s Tempe campus continuing the fruitful exchange of our opinions and ideas.


With Professor Gregory Sale’s (back row, in black) class at Combine Studios.

On October 28, I gave a public lecture at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe. I talked about projects I’m developing at Students’ City Cultural Center in Belgrade as well as the activities of maramaida curatorial duo. It was also a good opportunity to discuss differences and similarities between ASU’s campuses and Students’ City during the conversation that was opened after the talk and to share ideas about students’ exchange programs. The audience was interested to find out more about my host, the CEC ArtsLink program and the additional opportunities that they provide.

The same evening, after my public talk I visited the ABBA (A Bunch of Book Artists) show at the Harry Wood Gallery. My involvement in the Extended Field of Book project in Belgrade gave me a lot of ideas how these two collectives from Belgrade and Tempe could be connected. I am glad I met Professor Dan Meyer and graduate student Monica Garcia, both of whom are involved in ABBA.

Thanks to my hosts, I was introduced to a number of emerging and accomplished artists. I visited studios and had inspiring conversations with Arizona photographers including Sean Deckert, William LeGoullon, Edgar Cardenas, Claire A. Warden, David Emitt Adams, Nidaa Aboulhosn, Michael Lundgren and Dana Buhl.

Studio visit with artist Sean Deckert.

Studio visit with artist Sean Deckert.

Studio visit with artists Nidaa Aboulhosn and Michael Lundgren.

Studio visit with artists Nidaa Aboulhosn and Michael Lundgren.

I visited Carol Panaro-Smith and James Hajicek’s Alchemy Studio where they both work and teach different photographic processes diving deep into the history of photography. They showed me new inspiring contemporary approaches to old photographic techniques.

I also had the great experience of attending The Table initiated by Dana Buhl, photographic artist and curatorial coordinator at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Wanting to fill the gap, that according to her opinion, was present in the Phoenix art scene, she opened a new space at her house for photographic exhibitions and for people to come, have a dinner and conversation about art. The focus of The Table that I attended was an exhibition Guided Conversation by Mike Williams. The evening-long dialogue was very interesting and inspired with participants including Gordon Knox, Bill Jenkins, Claire Carter, Greg Esser, Dana Buhl, Michael Lundgren, Nidaa Aboulhosn, Max McLeod, Erick Lundgren and Charles Anthony Darr.


At “The Table.”

Part of the beauty of international artist residency programs is that you can meet people you admire and spend an inspiring time with them. During my residency in Phoenix I met renowned Slovenian artist and architect Marjetica Potrč, who made a brief visit to Phoenix in order to plan a return visit the following year with her students to conduct a project in partnership with the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program.

Gruden and Marjetica Potrc.

With Marjetica Potrc.

The ASU Art Museum’s Senior Curator and Associate Director Heather Sealy Lineberry and Print Curator Jean Makin gave me a wonderful tour around the museum’s various collections. I was fascinated with the possibilities that the ASU Art Museum provides for students and their research.

Thanks to the ASU Art Museum, I had a chance to take a one-day trip to Tucson. It was great meeting Rebecca Senf, curator at the Center for Creative Photography, who gave Greg and me a guided tour around the center. Visiting the Photography Conservation Lab and listening to Dr. Jennifer Jae Gutierrez, senior Photograph Conservator, about conservation processes and the up-to-date equipment that the center possesses was a special experience.


At the Center for Creative Photography.

An excellent exhibition, Performance: Contemporary Photography from the Douglas Nielsen Collection was on display at the Center featuring works of Diane Arbus, John Baldessari, Jo Ann Callis, Nan Goldin, Bruce Nauman, Richard Renaldi and Cindy Sherman, among others. I was happy to be in Tuscon to see it.

Our next stop in Tucson was Etherton Gallery, where I had the pleasure to meet Terry Etherton, founder of the gallery. On view was an exhibition titled Land Exposures (with works by Jamey Stillings, Richard Laugharn, David Emitt Adams and Chris Colville). We stayed for the panel discussion “The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar.” Jamey Stillings’ photo project provided the basis for a panel discussion and community questions exploring various challenges, impacts and benefits presented by large renewable energy projects and how we balance those to achieve the most desirable outcomes.

In Tucson I also met Josh Schachter, photographer, multimedia educator and community artist who shared more information about his numerous projects with students, refuges and variety of organizations and institutions.

During my five-week residency stay I had the opportunity to meet a number of local artists and ASU students to view and learn about their work and processes. This short but eventful time brought me the opportunity to develop an exhibition at the Combine Studios gallery based on my interactions with photographers from Phoenix and recent collaborations with photographers from Belgrade. The opening reception of the exhibition Convergence / PHX – BG was on First Friday, November 7, 2014.

"Convergence / PHX - BG" at Combine Studios.

“Convergence / PHX – BG” at Combine Studios.

Convergence / PHX – BG is an exhibition of photographic works by the following artists from Phoenix and Belgrade: Ryan Parra, Claire A. Warden, Nidaa Aboulhosn, Edgar Cardenas, Sean Deckert, William LeGoullon, Goran Micevski, Ivan Petrović, Stefana Savić, Nina Todorović, Aleksandrija Ajduković and Mihailo Vasiljević. The exhibition represents a generational cross-section of artists from their twenties to their forties. It indicates a first step in connecting the artists, audiences, photographic processes and people from two distant towns. The title Convergence / PHX – BG is intended for the viewer to consider similarities but also to raise interests for differences that enrich and intrigue our local perspectives. The same exhibition will be presented at the Students’ City Cultural Center Gallery in Belgrade at the beginning of 2015.

The effects of this convergence will be to create a space for personal encounter and dialogue between artists from Phoenix and Belgrade, and to help develop collaborative and exchange projects in the future. It was my pleasure to find out that many of the photographers from Phoenix met each other in person for the first time through their participation this exhibition that I curated.

The grand finale of my residency was a one-day trip to Grand Canyon with Greg and Felipe Goes, a painter from Sao Paolo. We had a wonderful time, hiking and enjoying fascinating views of the Grand Canyon until the sun set. We enjoyed beautiful changing colors, moving shadows, perfect air and a time trail comparing geologic time to footsteps along the rim.

Gruden and Felipe Goes, in Flagstaff.

With Felipe Goes, in Flagstaff.

This residency program was enormously important in expanding my professional network and opened a number of options for potential collaborative projects that could be developed in the future. In addition to CEC ArtsLink who funded my residency, I would like to thank the ASU Art Museum and my hosts there, Greg and Estrella, for their organization, support, energy, love and commitment!!!

With Greg and Felipe at the Grand Canyon.

With Greg and Felipe at the Grand Canyon.

See you again.

— Maida Gruden

Gruden’s residency was funded in part through the support of ArtsLink Residencies which offers artists and arts managers from 37 overseas countries five-week residencies at non-profit arts organizations throughout the US. The program enables artists and communities across the U.S. to share artistic practices with artists and arts managers from abroad and engage in dialogue that advances understanding across cultures. 

December 29, 2014 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

Ask our curators your questions tomorrow! #AskACurator day is Sept. 17, 2014

Join the international conversation on Ask A Curator Day 2014, this Wednesday! The ASU Art Museum’s Heather Sealy Lineberry and Andrea Feller will be answering your questions all day on Twitter @ASUArtMuseum. Follow live with hashtag #AskACurator


We’re proud one of over 600 museums participating in this social media event this year! To send us your questions, tweet with the hashtag #AskACurator and tag @ASUArtMuseum and we’ll answer. You can direct your questions to either Heather (HSL) or Andrea (AF), or to both! You can even tweet your questions today and we’ll save them up to answer on Wednesday.

To learn more about #AskACurator day and see a full list of participating museums, visit:

September 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm Leave a comment

Dispatches from Madrid: On the Road with Charles Demuth

Editor’s note: Last month, the ASU Art Museum’s Teresa Shannon, assistant registrar (and recent ASU graduate!) headed to Madrid to oversee the safe travel of a Charles Demuth painting from the museum’s collection, entitled A Sky After El Greco. Here’s a firsthand look at her trip: 

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.


The Madrid airport, unlike our own Sky Harbor, only has one exit from the international arrivals terminal.  While this made for a hectic and crowded journey through customs, at the end it rewarded me with one of the happiest experiences of travel: seeing family awaiting the arrival of a loved one.  Gobs of children and adults press themselves against the security barrier and burst into cheers when they glimpse the face of their family member in the crowd of us moving toward the exit. In the midst of all the smiling faces stands a man in a business suit holding a piece of paper with my name spelled out in all caps. I rush over to introduce myself to the man who will escort me from the airport to the Museo Nacional del Prado.

My escort’s name is Guillermo and he works for SIT Spain, a company that specializes in the packing and transportation of art, as well as museum and exhibition conservation and design. Guillermo is here to help me complete my duties as an art courier. This journey started two days before in Arizona, when I began escorting the ASU Art Museum’s Charles Demuth painting: A Sky After El Greco, first to Los Angeles and then to Madrid, for the El Greco and Modern Painting exhibition (on view June 24 – Oct. 5, 2014) at the Museo Nacional del Prado.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

This second half of my journey is where the real work would start.  Antonio drives to the freight packing area of the airport and I watch as the crate containing the painting is loaded on to a truck and strapped securely in for its drive to the Prado.  Following this truck to the museum gives me my first glimpse of beautiful Madrid, where cars darted down tree-lined, one-way streets and people walk briskly on a mixture of well-maintained sidewalks and treacherous cobblestone paths.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

We arrived at the museum’s loading dock, and only after showing my passport am I allowed into the building. The crate is taken from the truck and delivered directly into the exhibition space where it will be shown. Many pieces of artwork are already hanging in the gallery and I am able to walk though and view them as I wait. It is a humbling and exceptional experience to get a behind-the-scenes view of how an exhibition of this size is put together. The crate stays overnight in the museum to acclimate to the new environment and I am taken to my hotel.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

The night life in Madrid is incredible. Although it is around 7 p.m. when I finally make it to my hotel for check-in, the city is still bright with sunlight and the people are just making their way out for pre-dinner drinks.  Never one to buck local customs, I head out for a night of exploring with a fellow courier from San Francisco and a conservator from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. We stroll through quaint alleys to a sherry bar called La Venencia, which was once a favorite haunt of bullfighting-obsessed writer Ernest Hemingway. In the narrow bar we sip a glass of dry white wine and snack on fresh green olives.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Our little group then makes its way to a plaza filled with people just beginning dinner. Madridians are late dinners — I mean late! Most restaurants do not even begin serving dinner until 9 p.m., and then don’t close their kitchens until 1 a.m.  The old and the young congregate in the town squares or plazas that dot the city. Street performers, trinket sellers, palm readers and children come together to create a carnival-like atmosphere, not just on weekends but every night. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the fun and before we knew it midnight had come. Though the streets are still full of merry people, we decide to call it a night.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

The next day I make my way on foot to the Prado for the unpacking and hanging of the Demuth.  I pass lovely buildings and luscious green parks while the sound of people speaking Spanish surrounds me. Before I can feel completely out of my element, I spy a very large Starbucks, and shaking my head at the sight, I cross the street to enter the Prado. The staff at the museum welcomes me and again takes me behind closed doors into the exhibition space.  For two hours I stand with other couriers from around the world as the museum’s staff unpack, examine and hang paintings by or inspired by El Greco.  The efficiency of this group is amazing and they work quickly yet safely to display the artwork.  After an intense examination of A Sky After El Greco is performed by the Prado’s lead paper conservator, the Demuth is hung in a side gallery space dedicated to artists from the Americas.  This space, called Area 7  in the exhibition checklist, also features Jackson Pollock and Thomas Hart Benton.

After the painting is hung, the staff quickly moves on to the next painting and I exit the exhibition area to explore the Prado. Their collection is astounding. Walking from room to room, I see masters such as Caravaggio, Hieronymous Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez. Never before have I been so completely in love with art as the moment when I walked around a corner and saw the Prado’s Mona Lisa, attributed to a student of Leonardo da Vinci, who most likely painted alongside him and copied his every brush stroke (learn more in a New York Times article on this painting!) With the audio guide to my ear, I learn that this stunning painting is a close copy of Leonardo’s original, which has hung in the Louvre since 1797, but the background behind the figure is more complete.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

Photo by Teresa Shannon.

With my duties as a courier complete, I am now free to explore the city for the next two days.  I feel incredibly fortunate to visit this cosmopolitan place, and will use my free time to see the Royal Place, the National Cathedral, the Bibliotheca and the archeological museum — and of course, eat lots of tapas!  Madrid is a fantastic place, not only for the vast array of museums and attractions it offers, but also the history, the culture and the obvious pride the people take in their city.

To see more from Teresa’s visit to Madrid and the life of a registrar, search #trs1986travels on Instagram.

July 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm 1 comment

Saturday, July 12 – Family Fun Day at the ASU Art Museum

‘Comically’ fun educational activities for children of all ages! 

Join us at the ASU Art Museum on Saturday, July 12, 2014, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., for the museum’s FREE annual Family Fun Day. Children of all ages are invited to enjoy a variety of art making projects, educational booths and performances in conjunction with this summer’s family-focused exhibition, Funny Papers.

At this year’s event, enjoy face painting, interactive music, dance and magic performances from Persephone, C3 Dance and Jolly Roger. Get creative while making cartoon critters, superhero capes and shields, paper hats, pendants and more!

Get more information about this event and plan your visit today!


Educational programming is organized by Andrea Feller, curator of education, and support for Family Fun Day is provided by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Stulgaitis Family Scholastic Award in honor of Helen Flecha Polina. Community partners include the Junior League of Phoenix, Valley Metro, KAET PBS/8, the ASU Women’s Basketball team and the Ceramics Research Center’s Artists’ Advisory Committee.


Hearkening back to Sundays of childhoods past, when there was a mad dash for the comic pages, Funny Papers (on view now through Sept. 6, 2014) explores the history of comic strips and their continued prevalence throughout art. The whole family is sure to enjoy the collection of both vintage comic strips and contemporary art infused with comic icons. You’ll leave laughing out loud — and wanting to draw some comics of your own. This exhibition is curated by Jean Makin and supported by the Evelyn Smith Exhibition Fund.

July 8, 2014 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment

New Sergei Isupov work added to the collection

The ASU Art Museum is thrilled to add its first Sergei Isupov sculpture into the permanent ceramics collection thanks to David Charak, Ferrin Contemporary and the artist. Isupov’s piece, Firey, created from stoneware, stain and glaze, is a beautiful new addition to the collection. It was given to the museum from a series of Isupov’s large-scale heads and appeared at the NCECA 2009 conference at the Mesa Contemporary Arts.

Sergei Isupov, "Firey," 2009. Stoneware, stain, glaze. 25 ¾ x 19 ½ x18 in. From the ASU Art Museum collection, gift of David Charak, Ferrin Contemporary and Sergei Isupov.

Sergei Isupov, “Firey,” 2009. Stoneware, stain, glaze. 25 ¾ x 19 ½ x18 in. From the ASU Art Museum collection, gift of David Charak, Ferrin Contemporary and Sergei Isupov.

Russian-born artist Sergei Isupov is quite often called an erotic Surrealist for his bold depictions of sexuality, relationships and human encounters. He uses his own experiences as well as human observation to create a unique approach to the world of sculpture. “My work portrays characters placed in situations that are drawn from my imagination but based on my life experiences,” said Isupov. “My art works capture a composite of fleeting moments, hand gestures, eye movements that follow and reveal the sentiments expressed.”

Various narrative themes are conjoined together to create Isupov’s sculptural ceramic forms, inspired by particulars from his life. Personal interpretation is very much expected with his work.

Isupov states that, “Through the drawn images and sculpted forms, I capture faces, body types and use symbolic elements to compose, in the same way as you might create a collage. These ideas drift and migrate throughout my work without direct regard to specific individuals, chronology or geography…Through my work I get to report and explore human encounters, comment on the relationships between man and woman, and eventually their sexual union that leads to the final outcome — the passing on of DNA which is the ultimate collection — a combined set of genes and a new life, represented in the child.”

Sergei Isupov, "Firey," 2009. Stoneware, stain, glaze. 25 ¾ x 19 ½ x18 in. From the ASU Art Museum collection, gift of David Charak, Ferrin Contemporary and Sergei Isupov.

Sergei Isupov, “Firey,” 2009. Stoneware, stain, glaze. 25 ¾ x 19 ½ x18 in. From the ASU Art Museum collection, gift of David Charak, Ferrin Contemporary and Sergei Isupov.

Firey, alongside numerous other ceramic works from the ASU Art Museum’s collection, is on display now at the Ceramics Research Center at the Brickyard, located at 699 S. Mill Ave, Suite 108, Tempe, Ariz. 85281. If you haven’t seen our beautiful new space yet, you’re missing out! Plan your visit today, or call 480.727.8170 for directions and hours.

— by Nicole Lechner, ASU Art Museum intern 

June 26, 2014 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

Artist Pablo Helguera talks language insiders, e-books and ‘Librería Donceles’

This spring, the ASU Art Museum presented two concurrent solo exhibitions of work by artist Pablo Helguera. Pablo Helguera: Librería Donceles and Pablo Helguera: Chrestomathy, are the first presentations outside of the East Coast of this new work by Helguera, a world-renowned visual and performance artist whose work weaves together personal and historical narratives in the context of socially engaged art and language.

Librería Donceles is an itinerant, functional Spanish-language bookstore of 12,000 used books in Spanish on every subject—including literature, poetry, art, history, biology, medicine, anthropology and politics, as well as children’s books. To create the installation, Helguera assembled donations of books from individuals and groups in Mexico City and elsewhere, offering prints of his previous artworks in exchange for boxes of books. Librería Donceles is currently on view through June 28, 2014 in downtown Phoenix at Combine Studios Gallery, home of the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program.

Pablo Helguera, pictured in the Librería Donceles installation. Image by Tim Trumble.

Pablo Helguera, pictured in the Librería Donceles installation. Image by Tim Trumble.

During one of Helguera’s recent visits to Phoenix, he sat down with Julio César Morales, ASU Art Museum Curator, and Brittany Corrales, Windgate Curatorial Assistant and master’s candidate in art history, to talk about socially engaged practice, e-books, and the “Bob Dylan of Mexico.”

JCM: Librería Donceles is a project that was born in New York City in 2013 and influenced by the fact that there are 2 million Spanish-speaking people in New York and not one Spanish-language bookstore. Here in Arizona, where English is the official language and it is against the law to teach ethnic studies in K-12 public schools, how do you see the bookstore functioning in regards to the current social environment in Phoenix?

PH: It was very important to me to be able to bring Librería Donceles to Phoenix  as I see it as a way to promote knowledge of the culture around Spanish language — something that I believe is necessary if there is going to be a discussion on banning books.  The project seeks to show that every language has a great depth and richness that reaches all disciplines and goes back centuries.  I wanted to show that regardless of what language they are written in, knowledge is universal and contributes to the betterment of individuals and communities all over the world. I also believe that prejudice emerges from distance — it is common to judge something without seeing it with your own eyes.  So we have thousands of books there now, for people to meet in person, and whether one speaks Spanish or not, I think it may be surprising for someone to walk in there and ponder on the value and importance of the book.

BC: To create Librería Donceles, you assembled donations of books from individuals and groups in Mexico City and elsewhere, offering your artwork in exchange for books and producing an Ex Libris for each donor that acknowledges the provenance of every volume. What sort of ephemera did you discover in the pages of the donated books?

PH: There were a myriad of things in them: movie tickets, subway tickets, laundry lists, religious pamphlets, love messages, cryptic messages, photos, business cards. It was amazing what we found.  I particularly liked a hotel towel receipt – ones that you would use to borrow towels in the pool in places like Acapulco.  They all spoke of the personal circumstances under which the book was being read.

Outside the Librería Donceles, in downtown Phoenix, Ariz. Image by Tim Trumble.

Outside the Librería Donceles, in downtown Phoenix, Ariz. Image by Tim Trumble.

JCM: Can you talk about the origins of socially-engaged art practice? Some may consider it a catch-all for what cannot be defined within a specific art genre. However, as a pioneer or leader within this field, can you forecast a future of how this genre might be able to push the boundaries within the traditional notions and relationships between audiences, artists and cultural spaces?

PH: You could say that art in the public realm has always existed, even before it was a commodity or it was housed in museums. Art comes from the public, from vernacular expression, and within the modernist tradition, the effort to bring art into the public realm was sort of a political gesture- ranging from the Mexican muralists until today. The practices that started emerging over the last decade ago or so was, in my view, an attempt to connect with that political spirit of social investment by furthering what process-based art had done in the previous decades, and using elements from relational aesthetics and institutional critique but trying to move on from the museum discourse. I am afraid that socially engaged art is quickly becoming an academic discipline and we may be creating already a “genre” out of it.  But I believe that is, in essence, an inevitable part of the assimilative process of every new set of practices. What I don’t think is going to go away is the desire to make art matter again in the public discourse. So my hopes is that socially engaged art today, as we understand and define it right now, will evolve into new forms of art making that operate independently from the existing market structures of art.

BC: You currently work as the Director of Adult and Academic Programs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. How has your experience in education and programming informed your art practice, or vice versa?

PH: I have done museum education on par with my artistic practice since 1991 and as a result my experiences as educator have influenced my work as artist and vice versa. It is mainly the reason why I started making work that dealt with the social context of art—because  that is what you deal with as an educator— and that is why as educator I am interested in supporting forms of learning that are placed at the center of the artistic process.

JCM: In recent years, pedagogy has played an important role within the curatorial practice in major projects such as Documenta and the Mercosul Biennale in Brazil. Is it possible that we can “learn” to understand art and life in a more “speculative” understanding between the relationship of practice and exchange?

PH: Many of us believe that all this relatively sudden interest in pedagogy by the contemporary art world is nothing other than the recognition that what many artists wanted to do with their work has to do more with education than with art appreciation. We don’t want works that are there merely to be admired: we want to make works that truly matter, that truly can be transformative. And it is education theory that shows you how transformative experiences are created, ranging from John Dewey to Jerome Bruner to Paulo Freire.  The problem is that pedagogy tends to continue to be perceived as didacticism, not as experiential practice.

BC: As a bibliophile, what do you believe is the role of printed books as objects in our increasingly paper-less, virtual world?

PH: There are evident and not-so evident contrasts between the physical object of the book and the e-book.  But amongst the not most evident ones, there’s the issue of personal ownership. You don’t own the e-books in your library- you mainly rent them.  At a first glance this may appear to seem democratic, but it is not. A corporation owns all these books, all this content basically, and gives you access to them for a fee. This has an impact on how knowledge is produced and transmitted. You can’t give away or share your library to others, you can’t lend books.  So what is being lost is the personal communication and production of knowledge and experiences that lead to knowledge through the object of the book.

JCM: I have always thought of Oscar Chavez (Mexican folk singer and cultural activist) as the “Bob Dylan of Mexico.” Can you talk about the influence of his craft within your artistic practice? (I will not mention to anyone that he is your uncle).

PH: I grew up in a family of artists- some of them were classical musicians, others, like Oscar, were involved with popular traditions. In my grandmother’s house, on Sundays, we would gather and both kinds of art coexisted — we would start dinner listening to Caruso, but after dinner —and a few drinks— my aunts and uncles would sing rancheras. As a teenager I would go with my aunts to Oscar’s concerts at the Auditorio Nacional (where he still performs every year). In the 70s and 80s, during the hard years and later decay of the PRI, it was difficult to exist as a true voice of dissent. Yet Oscar never flinched and was implacable in his scathing criticism of the government—so those concerts at the Auditorio Nacional felt like true demonstrations. I always admired Oscar’s ability for satire, his integrity and the way he managed to touch the public.  These days I am thinking a lot about how important is to think of that legacy for us as artists.

Helguera and curator Julio Cesar Morales enjoy a musical moment in Librería Donceles.

Helguera and curator Julio Cesar Morales enjoy a musical moment in Librería Donceles. Image by Tim Trumble.

BC: If language creates meaning, are there certain linguistic borders that are not traversable? Can you provide an example of a particular word or phrase whose nuances you find difficult to translate from Spanish to English?

PH: There are absolutely lots of linguistic borders. The easiest to identify is localism and humor.  When you learn a language (and even when you are a native speaker) the most challenging thing to understand are local and internal dialects, which may make reference to things and topics that you may not be familiar with.  In 1960, a Mexican writer named Armando Jiménez published a book that became an instant classic, Picardía Mexicana, which was an incredible compilation of Mexican jokes, off-color phrases and general nastiness of the language.  A book like that shows you how elaborate and intricate humor can become, and how it evolves so quickly in time and place. The Mexican humor of 1960 is totally different to the one in 1970 or 1990 or today.  Some jokes survive or become transformed, but it all responds to the immediate social context.  Finally, there is a big difference between understanding a joke and finding it funny. You can intellectually understand why something that is said may be considered funny by some people, but when you actually laugh without analyzing it, that means that you are an insider of that language.

June 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm Leave a comment

What’s happening at the ASU Art Museum this week: April 14 – 20, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the ASU Art Museum Brickyard Grand Opening reception last Friday! The Ceramics Research Center is thrilled to be in its new home, and we’re thankful for all of your support through this exciting and transitional time.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014:

Noon – 1 p.m. in the Kresge Gallery at the ASU Art Museum — Marilyn Zeitlin, a well-known contemporary art curator and Latin American art specialist, returns to the ASU Art Museum to give a gallery talk on Rhythm and History. For more info:

Friday, April 18, 2014:

Noon – 1 p.m. at the ASU Art Museum — curator Julio Cesar Morales discusses artist Eduardo Sarabia’s influences and the making of Moctezuma’s Revenge. For more info:

As always, museum admission (at any location) is always free! For questions on hours, directions or programming, call 480.965.2787 or visit

Image credits, clockwise from left:

Los Carpinteros, Vecinos (Neighbors), 2005. Fiberglass, polyester resin, stainless steel, silicon, PVC, water pump, water filter, lighting and water. 42 1/8 x 60 1/4 x 60 1/4 in. Gift of Diane and Bruce Halle from the Thomarie Foundation. From Rhythm and History (2014).

Eduardo Sarabia, Happy, 2011. Oil on canvas. 55.9 x 78.34 inches. Courtesy the I-20/Judelson Collection, New York. From Moctezuma’s Revenge (2014).

Image courtesy of Marilyn Zeitlin.

Sandra Ramos, from the series Migrations II [Swimming under the Stars], 1994. Oil on suitcase. Overall: 19 1/2 x 25 x 17 in. Gift of the ASU Art Museum Advisory Board 100% Cuban Campaign. From Rhythm and History (2014).

April 14, 2014 at 5:27 pm 1 comment

What’s happening at the ASU Art Museum this week: April 7 – 13, 2014

Have you seen Moctezuma’s Revenge yet? If not, hurry — this amazing solo exhibition by artist Eduardo Sarabia closes in just three weeks. See the show that the Phoenix New Times calls “a punch you don’t see coming, one that lingers for a very long time,” before it closes on April 26.


And, get your ceramics fix with two great events this week:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014:

6:30 p.m., in the Top Gallery at the ASU Art Museum — Curator of ceramics Peter Held leads a gallery tour of the wild and colorful world of MUCK. For more info:

Friday, April 11, 2014:

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., (members and alumni preview from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m.) at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard  — We’re celebrating the grand opening of our third location in the Phoenix –metro area, the ASU Art Museum Brickyard located at Mill Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Tempe. The Brickyard is the new home for the Ceramics Research Center, and we hope you’ll join us for this occasion! For more info:

As always, museum admission (at any location) is always free! For questions on hours, directions or programming, call 480.965.2787 or visit

Image credits, clockwise from left: 

Muck: Accumulations, Accretions and Aggregations (2014). Image by Craig Smith.
Eduardo Sarabia. CODEX 2: Popocatepetl, 2013. Acrylic, india ink on paper, 22 in. x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist and Charpenel Collection. From Moctezuma’s Revenge (2014).
Marilyn Levine (1935-2006), Satchel, 1964. Ceramic, stained.
Rendering of potential signage at new ASU Art Museum Brickyard location on 7th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe. Image courtesy of the ASU Art Museum.

April 7, 2014 at 5:08 pm Leave a comment

The Fearless Nature of Being: The Legacy of Don Reitz

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Peter Held, curator of ceramics at the Arizona State University Art Museum Ceramics Research Center. 

The ASU Art Museum and Ceramics Research Center were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend Don Reitz, an iconic ceramic artist and educator, on March 19.  He was 84 years old.  As a memorial tribute, the museum will unveil a selection of his work in the permanent collection at its new Brickyard facility for the location’s grand opening on April 11.

Reitz was a modern-day folk legend and larger than life.  As a master ceramicist, he produced new and exciting work with his innovative and adaptable practice, inspiring several generations of ceramic practitioners.  Despite advanced age, Reitz continued to push his artistic vision, inspiring a new generation of ceramic practitioners.

"Life is not a dress rehearsal; you only have one shot at it." — Don Reitz, August 20, 2011 Photo by Daniel Swadener.

“Life is not a dress rehearsal; you only have one shot at it.” — Don Reitz, August 20, 2011
Photo by Daniel Swadener.

Born at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, Reitz was affected by the harsh economic realities during his childhood.  Growing up during this difficult time in history, Reitz drew upon this wellspring of strength to make the most of any circumstance. Dyslexia and the disillusionment of academia, marital strife, and a near fatal accident made for, at times, a tumultuous life, but Reitz remained an eternal optimist, plowing through the fields of life with vim and vigor, undeterred by roadblocks.  “I’m a warrior, not a foot soldier,” he said in a recent interview.

Trained at Alfred University, the preeminent institution for advanced ceramic training, Reitz’s early work is marked by the design imperatives of the day: clean, simple pots with a solid grounding in technical knowledge and craftsmanship.  Following the lead of his teachers Robert Turner and Val Cushing, and fellow Alfred alumni Karen Karnes, Ken Ferguson and David Shaner, Reitz’s formative utilitarian pieces are marked by simplicity, symmetry and prevailing European modernist influences. While all four artists shared similar training, each found their own voices early in their distinguished careers.

Photo by Daniel Swadener.

Photo by Daniel Swadener.

At Alfred, Reitz began experimenting with salt-glaze, a technique largely neglected by the post World War II ceramic studio movement.  Readily embracing this firing technique, Reitz quickly realized that it allowed the clay to keep its natural character, and its malleability did not obscure the creator’s hand.  In a decade’s time, he was dubbed “Mr. Salt” by his peers.  Baroque pots with ornamental embellishments from this era of Reitz’s career are iconic within the field.

In Reitz’s career, he experienced his fair share of life’s unexpected twists and turns.  In 1982, he was hospitalized for several months due to multiple injuries suffered from an auto accident.  This experience was not only physically challenging, but also kept the artist from creating in his studio. Mentally and spiritually debilitated, the knowledge of his five-year-old niece Sara’s bout with cancer added to his misfortunes. Drawing as a means of rehabilitation, Sara and Reitz bolstered each other’s spirits. Inspired by the little girl’s freedom of form, line, and color, Reitz took to paint and paper in hand as a cathartic healing process, eventually returning to the studio to unleash a torrent of new work.  His “Sara Series,” is the result, a collection of covered jars and plates comprised of chalky pastels and vivid hues of red, yellow and blues, gouged with autobiographical drawings and noticeably divorced from his previous body of work.

In the mid-1980s, Reitz devoted more time to the wood firing process, due in part to his long association and friendship with Don Bendel, ceramics teacher at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.  Bendel invited the Japanese master kiln builder Yukio Yamamoto to build a Noborigama and Anagama kiln that continues to be part of the core program at the university. In successive years, Reitz worked through a number of visual forms through ceramics: Shields, Tea Stacks, Bag Forms, Punch-outs, Kachinas and Table Tops.

After his life-threatening heart surgery in 2007, the realities of his diminished physical stamina required new modes of working.  Reitz relied on studio assistants to make cylindrical shapes, which he then alters.  It provided a sense of freedom Reitz had never experienced until this moment in his long career. Reitz also wood fired in kilns around the country, and collaborated with a multitude of other artists.  Artist Chris Gustin writes of his friend that working together has been a gift that keeps giving: “We’ve spent countless hours at the wood kiln, firing, talking, eating, laughing and reminiscing. What drives it all is the work, the pots that we’re firing and the ones that have yet to be made. It’s a wonderful thing to be reminded of how lucky we are to work in clay.  Don’s generosity and spirit are contagious, and his energy is an incredible thing to be a part of,” he says.

Photo by Peter Held.

Photo by Peter Held.

It’s hard to imagine a more noteworthy artist who has been a mainstay in ceramics for the last six decades, retaining the defining attributes of a formidable artist: exceptional talent and skill, a highly disciplined work ethic, and unbridled enthusiasm with a world composed of subtle nuances and catastrophic events.  The trajectory of Reitz’s artistic career is inexplicitly woven into his personal life’s tidal movements, both tragic and joyous.  His recent work was a testament to the fearless nature of being Don Reitz, and this through constant reinvention and originality; he extended the definition and potential of the ceramic arts.  He will be sorely missed by legions of artists from around the United States and abroad.

Reitz’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on March 29:



April 4, 2014 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

What’s happening at the ASU Art Museum this week: March 31 – April 6, 2014

This Is Not America, Part III opens Saturday, April 5, 2014 in the Americas Gallery at the ASU Art Museum. The third in a three-part series of exhibitions looking at the intersection of art and social change, this exhibition is co-curated with ASU MFA students and focuses on the central themes of dominance and illusion. For more info:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014:

6 p.m., in the Kresge Gallery at the ASU Art Museum — Learn about issues of appropriation and fair use from Christine Steiner, an expert arts attorney from Los Angeles. For more info:

Thursday, April 3, 2014:

7:30 p.m., at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard — Hear from internationally renowned potter Linda Sikora as she gives this year’s Jan Fisher Memorial Lecture. For more info:

Friday, April 4, 2014:

7 p.m. at Combine Studios Gallery in downtown Phoenix — Explore Pablo Helguera’s Librería Donceles with the curator, Julio Morales in this special First Friday event. For more info:

Saturday, April 5, 2014:

11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the ASU Art Museum — It’s time for First Saturdays for Families! This month, explore Echoes of Japan, hear a special performance from ASU School of Music students and use actual printmaking techniques to create your own masterpiece. For more info:

As always, museum admission (at any location) is always free! For questions on hours, directions or programming, call 480.965.2787 or visit

Image credits, clockwise from left:

Linda Sikora in her studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Pablo Helguera. “Librería Donceles,” 2013. (detail) Installation with books, works on paper, sound. Image courtesy of the artist and Kent Fine Arts.
Helen Hyde (1868-1919), “Cherry Blossom,” woodblock print. From Echoes of Japan (2014).
Pablo Guardiola, “Untitled,” 2007. Digital C-print, 20 x 30 in. Image courtesy of the artist. From This Is Not America, Part III (2014).




March 31, 2014 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

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