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ASU Art Museum Director/Chief Curator Announces Retirement

November 13, 2007

TEMPE, Ariz. – Marilyn A Zeitlin, who came to ASU in 1992 to lead the Art Museum, has announced her retirement to focus on creative work including research, writing, and freelance curatorial work. She will step down as director of the ASU Art Museum in the Herberger College of the Arts on Dec. 31, 2007 and retire from the university at the end of December 2008 following a one-year research leave.

In her 15 years as director, Zeitlin built a reputation for presenting groundbreaking exhibitions, of identifying emerging artists whom she has launched, often giving them their first solo museum exhibition. Among those artists whom she brought to prominence are those of the generation of the ‘90s from Cuba whose work she presented in 1998 in "Contemporary Art from Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island."

Over the years, Zeitlin has led a talented curatorial staff in explorations of the relationship of art and society. This exploration characterizes the exhibition focus and also the emphasis in acquisitions to the collection. During her tenure, the value of the collection multiplied eight-fold. The increase reflects judicious selection of work by emerging artists. Cubans represented with deep holdings include Pedro Alvarez, Jose Toirac, and Sandra Ramos. They and others from the 1998 seminal exhibition now enjoy international status and command high process in the art market.

“Working with my exceptional curatorial staff, we have been able to create enthusiasm among collectors and audiences who share our vision of the importance of art in our lives and our commitment to education,” Zeitlin says. We offer a place for experimentation and inquiry, participation and dialogue.” Working closely with Senior Curator Heather Lineberry, Zeitlin defined the ceramics collection as more than a collection of objects. The collection was defined as a research resource. Later, under the leadership of Peter Held, the ASU Art Museum’s first curator of ceramics, this research resource is among the most important in the country.

In addition to building an international presence for ASU in the art world, Zeitlin has worked with her staff to create a strategic plan to align the ASU Art Museum with the goals of ASU President Michael Crow, creating a new model for a university museum. The plan emphasizes the role of Arizona in a global world, recognizes the value of interdisciplinary thinking, and recognizes the place of new media in creative environments. Under the theme of "Global Arizona," the ASU Art Museum just presented the inaugural project of "Social Studies," a project that brings an artist in residence to the museum where a gallery is converted into a workspace for artists and children where the creative process can be the centerpiece of an exhibition. This first project, which Zeitlin co-curated with curator John Spiak, brought Brazilian artist Jarbas Lopes to the museum and the community to explore the creative process. "Interlab" offers programs in which expertise from disciplines that span the entire university can come together to explore ideas and works of art together. "Moving Targets" involves new media both in the works of art shown and in the means of delivering information to its viewers.

"We live in a karaoke world, a place in which the viewer now wants to be the art, the dancer, the actor,” Zeitlin says. “We have committed to building a new relationship with audiences, to allow them to participate as well as to observe; to making the ASU Art Museum a welcoming place, bringing to the center of our mandate to serve the university and community with new relevance to issues beyond purely art concerns.”

Zeitlin, who holds undergraduate and masters degrees from Harvard University, was appointed in 1995 to be the US Commissioner to the Venice Biennale, launching the ASU Art Museum into the international spotlight. It was only the second time that a university museum represented the United States in what is considered to be the most prestigious art venue in the world, and the first time that a museum located west of the Mississippi held that honor.

Of her departure, Zeitlin says: “I will miss the everyday stimulation of working with my staff and interacting with audiences and supporters. But I look forward to time for more yoga classes, longer walks with my dog, more time with friends and family. In 15 years, I have brought the museum quite far. I did not do it alone, and those who worked with me will continue to energize and explore further. New leadership will carry it to the next plateau. I am eager to see where it will go from here. I know it will be lively.”

According to Kwang-Wu Kim, Dean of the Herberger College of the Arts: “Marilyn Zeitlin’s creative energy and keen intellect have been at the heart of the process of moving the ASU Art Museum into a position of national and international prominence. The ASU Art Museum has made tremendous advances during her 15-year tenure; her myriad artistic and creative accomplishments represent a distinguished record of success. I thank her for her many years of dedicated service to the museum and the university and I wish her much, continued success with her future endeavors.”

Founded in 1964, The Katherine K. Herberger College of the Arts at Arizona State University comprises four nationally ranked academic units: School of Music, School of Art, Department of Dance and School of Theatre and Film, plus the Arts, Media and Engineering Program, and ASU Art Museum. Nearly 2,600 students attend the college, which has 170 faculty and 150 staff. Since 2004, 25 National Merit Scholars and 13 National Hispanic Scholars have chosen the Herberger College as their place of study. To learn more about the college, visit 

Media Contact:
Wendy Craft 
Media Relations