Susan Sollins, creator of PBS series ‘ART21,’ dies on eve of 7th season


At a time when so much documentary programming can seem downright histrionic, pumped up full of swelling soundtracks, melodramatic narration and too much of ... well, too much, the television series “ART21” has always offered a smart antidote. Its segments -- which cover buzzy blue-chip types as well as lesser-known artist’s artists -- consist solely of artists discussing their work and the traditions and ideas that might influence it.

Which is why it was particularly sad to hear the news that Susan Sollins, the show’s creator and executive director, died unexpectedly early last week. Sollins was also a co-founder of Independent Curators International, an organization through which she mounted and/or toured dozens of exhibitions, including “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970,” first shown at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach in 2011.

But to many arts aficionados, Sollins will likely be best remembered for “ART21,” which is set to kick off its seventh season Friday night. The series, which airs nationally on PBS, has featured prominent Southern California artists such as Mike Kelley, Eleanor Antin and John Baldessari. “ART21,” created by Sollins in 1997, earned her a Peabody Award in 2007. She earned another Peabody in 2010, for her hour-long program “William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible,” about the South African artist.


Over the course of its time on air, “ART21” has featured more than 100 interviews with artists of all stripes -- wide-ranging conversation that Sollins always conducted herself. The upcoming season of the show features a typically eclectic group, including Mexican photographer Gabriela Iturbide, conceptualist Trevor Paglen and performance artist Tania Bruguera, among many others.

So tune in Friday evening. And perhaps raise a toast to an art world figure who made her life all about the art.

“ART21” airs on PBS SoCal on Friday at 10 p.m. Check local listings for station information.

You can find me on Twitter @cmonstah. Find “ART21” @ART21.