(ArtPrize Executive Director Christian Gaines, Susan Sollins, ArtPrize Founder Rick DeVos)

We recently learned that Susan Sollins, ArtPrize 2014 Grand Prize Juror and Executive Director and Chief Curator of ART21, passed away on Monday, October 13 in New York. We are shocked and saddened by this news. Shocked because Susan had just presented at the ArtPrize Awards in Grand Rapids on October 10, where she added her usual mix of warmth and critical insight. We’re saddened because this is a tremendous loss to family, friends, and the entire art world.

I hadn’t known Susan long—there will be longer, better written, and more complete remembrances of her work and impact—but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what Susan meant to ArtPrize and to me. As I’ve written about before, my relationship with ART21 goes back a ways, but I had not met Susan until this spring, when Nicole Caruth, editor of ART21 Magazine, provided a connection. When I first spoke to Susan, my intent was only to invite her to serve as one member of the three-person Grand Prize Jury; I hadn’t yet figured out the other two. She agreed, and took it several steps further. Given that Season 7 of Art in the 21st Century was set to premiere on PBS shortly after ArtPrize, she suggested we should form a larger partnership between our two organizations as a way of celebrating and launching the new season. I was floored. From there we set about rounding out the jury with Season 7 artists, creating an ART21 World Preview Screening at ArtPrize, and two separate education programs.

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. 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.

Susan was a good collaborator for ArtPrize because she challenged us. A tie for the Juried Grand Prize, for example, was not something we anticipated. She questioned how things worked and promised me she had plenty of feedback about how the event could continue to improve. We won’t get to have that conversation now, but the legacy she leaves provides more than enough inspiration for how to celebrate artists and bring their work to new audiences.

During ArtPrize this year I had the pleasure of spending a little time with artist Micah Silver, whose entry MusicX was showing at UICA. Micah and Susan had been friends for a long time. Micah told me something that’s not really surprising, but it now seems to hold a profound significance. He said that every artist interview in all seven seasons of Art in the 21st Century was conducted by Susan. That’s 136 profound, revelatory, and accessible conversations with the greatest artists of our time. These incredible conversations are available to anyone, and will live on for us to enjoy. When I watch them now, I’ll always think of who’s on the other side of the camera, her grace and inquisitive nature teasing out art’s mysteries.

By Kevin Buist on