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Susan Sollins, Pioneering Curator and Art Documentarian, Dies

Susan Sollins (photo courtesy ART21)
Susan Sollins (photo courtesy ART21)

Susan Sollins, the co-founder of Independent Curators International (ICI) and founder and executive director of Art21 — the non-profit organization that produces an artist documentary series with PBS — passed away on October 13 of unknown causes. Just days before her death, she served on the grand jury of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her age has not been made publicly available.

During Sollins’s 21 years at the helm of ICI she helped the organization mount some 75 exhibitions showcasing works by more than 1,700 artists. After leaving that organization (where she continued to serve as executive director emerita) she founded Art21 in 1997, whose ongoing documentary series on PBS, Art:21 – Art in the Twenty-First Century, she executive produced. She received a Peabody Award for Art:21 in 2007. She received another Peabody for William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, her 2010 documentary about the South African artist. Sollins went by Susan Sollins-Brown during her marriage to the composer Earle Brown, who died in 2002. At the time of her death, Sollins was serving as the president of the Earle Brown Music Foundation.

“Susan was an endlessly supportive colleague and an infinite source of inspiration,” Renaud Proch, executive director of ICI, told Hyperallergic via email. “She was like a compass for us at ICI: Co-founder of ICI — together with Nina Castelli Sundell whom we also lost earlier this year — and the organization’s first Executive Director from 1975 to 1996. She was a true pioneer too, and her founding principles and vision behind ICI four decades ago — and later behind Art21 — never cease to amaze me. They’ve guided so much of the new developments at ICI in the past years, and will continue to do so.”

“To be in an artist’s studio with Susan was to learn from a master filmmaker,” Art21’s associate producer Ian Forster said in an email. “Through the respectful way she documented artists at work — and by asking questions that were insightful but free of preconception — Susan revealed aspects of the creative process that would have otherwise gone unseen. Susan’s tireless work ethic inspired everyone involved in the production process to join her cause and do their best work. She mentored many people over the years and I am so grateful to have been one of them.”

“I have never worked for someone who was as much of a constant inspiration as Susan was,” Jonathan Munar, the director of digital media and strategy at Art21, added via email. “Susan was a direct inspiration as a leader and a mentor, and an indirect inspiration through her films and work. Susan’s passion for bringing contemporary art to broader audiences spoke not just through her own work, but also through the commitment of her staff. We believed in her vision, and she trusted us to help see it through. I am thankful to have worked for such a true visionary.”

“I’ve worked with a number of art world movers and shakers as jurors and speakers at ArtPrize, and Susan was certainly one of the greats,” ArtPrize’s exhibitions director Kevin Buist wrote in a blog post. “She seemed to have an endless network of connections to artists, curators, and directors, all of whom adored her work and her kind approach. She was also a bottomless well of ideas. For all we managed to accomplish in our partnership with Art21, there were dozens of ideas we didn’t get to, most of them Susan’s.”

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