by Chris Potter
Miller Gallery Director Astria Suparak, who brought exhibits examining everything from Pittsburgh Steelers fandom to riot grrrl culture to Carnegie Mellon University, has been terminated, City Paper has learned.
Reached by City Paper this weekend, Suparak declined comment. But Pam Wigley, a spokesperson for the College of Fine Arts, confirmed that Suparak was no longer serving as director at the gallery, which Wigley said began a restructuring at the end of the school's winter break [Editor's note: The previous statement has been changed to reflect the fact that CMU does not comment directly on personnel issues.]. “The gallery is taking on a new direction,” she said.
Wigley also provided CP with a statement from College of Fine arts Dean Dan Martin:
Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery this month will begin a new direction for exhibiting, presenting and exploring work across arts disciplines at the university. The gallery, which opened 13 years ago and is under the direction of the Office of the Dean of the College of Fine Arts (CFA), will continue to be an important resource for the arts on campus, regionally and nationally. In keeping with Carnegie Mellon’s philosophy of expanding approaches to art and pedagogy, the Miller Gallery will transform from a conventional gallery environment to a combined gallery, teaching and research space that includes space for installations, seminars, hands-on art-creating workshops, artist lectures, and applied research in curatorial/exhibition practices. A faculty leadership committee, chaired by the Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Initiatives and representing the five CFA schools of Art, Architecture, Design, Music and Drama, and other relevant academic units, will determine programming. This new direction for Miller Gallery provides opportunities for fresh and diverse perspectives articulated through the prism of varied creative and research interests. This is indicative of Carnegie Mellon’s ability to provide a rich, reflective hybrid experience for our students and to present new ideas and creative propositions to a general audience.
It’s not Suparak’s first abrupt departure. When she came to the Miller in 2008, City Paper’s Bill O’Driscoll heralded her as “arguably the biggest underground art star to move to Pittsburgh in years.” But she’d been fired from Syracuse University in a dispute with an administrator.
During her tenure at the Miller, Suparak brought a wide range of exhibits, some of which shattered typical expectations for a gallery. Her Steelers-themed exhibit, Whatever it Takes, celebrated the extremes of Steelers Nation fandom. One of her earliest exhibits featured the subversive work of The Yes Men, noted anti-corporate pranksters.
Suparak's departure is already causing a stir among art professionals. "Her loss from the Miller will be deeply felt not only by the Pittsburgh art community but by all of her colleagues at galleries and museums across America (and beyond) whom she has collaborated with over the years," wrote Jon Davies, a curator at Oakville Galleries, a contemporary art gallery outside of Toronto.
Davies says he first found out about Suparak's departure when he was planning a trip to Pittsburgh later this week. “I tried e-mailing her a few days ago at the gallery, and her e-mail bounced back, which was ominous,” he told CP by phone.
We’ll have more on this story as it develops. Suparak’s current, and apparently last, exhibit at the gallery –- Alien She -- is on display through February.