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CMU fires contemporary art gallery's director

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Astria Suparak, former Director of Carnegie Mellon University's Regina Gouger Miller Gallery.

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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 1:03 p.m.

Carnegie Mellon University confirmed on Wednesday it has fired the curator of its Miller Gallery, saying only that the contemporary art gallery would begin a “new direction.”

University spokesman Ken Walters would not say why Carnegie Mellon terminated Astria Suparak, or when, citing personnel decisions.

Suparak, reached by email through her website, declined to comment.

College of Fine Arts Dean Dan Martin said in a statement that the gallery will “transform from a conventional gallery environment to a combined gallery” with interdisciplinary uses. It will be used for teaching and research space, with room for “installations, seminars, hands-on art-creating workshops, artist lectures and applied research in curatorial/exhibition practices,” he said.

Programming, traditionally handled by the curator, will be determined by a faculty leadership committee representing schools of art, architecture, design, music and drama. The Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Initiatives, Franco Sciannameo, will chair the committee.

“This new direction for Miller Gallery provides opportunities for fresh and diverse perspectives articulated through the prism of varied creative and research interests,” Martin said.

Dan Byers, the Richard Armstrong curator of modern and contemporary art at the Carnegie Museum of Art, said he thinks the college eliminated Suparak's job and established a programming committee in order to highlight more work of students.

Suparak ran “the most exciting program in the city” by bringing together work by students, Pittsburgh's grassroots scene and artists worldwide, Byers said.

“She had raised the profile of the Miller Gallery,” he said.

Suparak, an artist and curator with international contemporary experience, joined Carnegie Mellon in March 2008. She came to Pittsburgh after Syracuse University terminated her from a position at The Warehouse Gallery. At the time, she had prepared an exhibit called “Come On: Desire Under the Female Gaze.”

Syracuse students, professors and the citywide art community protested the move. Five chairs at the school's College of Visual and Performing Arts signed a letter of support for Suparak, saying the city was “absolutely starving” for her skills and commending her “strong and imaginative leadership.”

In Pittsburgh, Suparak last worked on the “Alien She” exhibit that examines cultural influences of early ‘90s punk feminist movement Riot Grrrl. Contemporary art magazine Artforum included the show in its recent “Critic's Picks.”

While at Carnegie Mellon, Suparak curated exhibits with a pop culture, political focus and directed exhibits exploring themes of science, urban planning, feminism, and culture.

Past exhibits she co-organized included “Whatever it Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals and Obsessions,” on sports fanasticism in 2010. In 2008, she co-curated “Keep It Slick” with The Yes Men.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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