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Artist’s bequest benefits Art Museum

January 22, 2008

Wilhelmine “Helme” Prinzen passed away late last year and left her more than $1 million estate in Paradise Valley to the ASU Art Museum, part of ASU’s Herberger College of the Arts.

Prinzen originally planned for her bequest to remain anonymous, but later changed her mind to encourage others to consider including the ASU Art Museum in their estate planning.

Prinzen’s endowment will be used to assist and advance emerging artists through exhibitions organized by the museum and purchases of works by emerging artists for the museum’s permanent collection. In addition, the endowment will fund research and education in the area of contemporary art with emphasis on emerging artists.

“The Prinzen Endowment recognizes the ASU Art Museum’s history and ongoing commitment to exhibitions, publications and educational programs that focus on emerging artists,” says Heather Lineberry, senior curator and interim director of the ASU Art Museum. “Helme’s bequest significantly enhances our ability to continue these programs and to provide extraordinary experiences with contemporary art and artists for our students and audiences.”

Prinzen loved the ASU Art Museum, a place she found that reciprocated her interest in contemporary art, especially that of emerging artists.

“While Helme recognized that showing the work of artists already consecrated by art history or the market was important, she was attracted to our more adventurous approach,” says Marilyn Zeitlin, retired director of the ASU Art Museum and curator of its 2000 exhibition of Prinzen’s work, the first in a U.S. museum. “We were the first to show and collect work by Heidi Kumao, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, and gave the American audiences the first opportunity to see the works of Cuban artists in 1998. Helme liked that we often produce the first printed documentation of emerging artists’ work.”

Prinzen was introduced to the ASU Art Museum through her doctor, Rick Levinson, also an important artist and past chair of the museum’s advisory board. Prinzen was impressed with the museum’s emphasis on contemporary and emerging art (the museum was one of the first to show the works of Angela Ellsworth and Jon Haddock). She was also impressed with the museum’s commitment to show the works of artists who have not been seen in the region, including Shirin Neshat, Pipilotti Rist and Bill Viola.

Though a native of Germany, Prinzen spent six months of each year in Paradise Valley. When not in Arizona, Prinzen lived in Kaarst, Germany, where she began her career as a gallerist, founding Gallery 44 in 1972. It quickly became noteworthy in Europe for showing challenging work, representing the works of Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and Rotraut.

Once in Arizona, Prinzen’s interest eventually grew from the desire to show work to creating her own pieces. She was influenced by the mandalas of Asian religious art and the persistence of the circle in the art of other cultures, including that of Native Americans. She incorporated that imagery into her own pieces.

“Her intimacy with this level of work and the creative processes behind it meant that when she began to make art herself, she did so at a high level of sophistication,” Zeitlin says. “Helme’s gift is the museum’s first major donation marked for endowment and allows the museum to show work by emerging artists who often are very close in age to our own students.”

Laura Toussaint-Newkirk,
(480) 965-8796
Herberger College of the Arts