Jenni Sorkin visits CSU for Critic and Artist Residency Series

Ashley Potts

Jenni Sorkin, an art historian, writer and professor at UC Santa Barbara, is this year’s visitor for the Critic and Artist Residency Series at Colorado State University.

Sorkin has an impressive background. She received her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her MA from The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, and her Ph.D from Yale University. Her current career is just as impressive. On top of teaching, she recently published a book, called “Live Form,” and co-curated an impressive exhibit at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in Los Angeles, called “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women 1947-2016.” Sorkin somehow also managed to find time for this week-long, mini residency at CSU.


Jenni Sorkin, art talk, Critic and Artist Residency Series
Art historian and critic, Jenni Sorkin, gives a talk for the Critic and Artist Residency Series. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

“Jenni is here as part of the Critic and Artist Residency Series,” said Linny Frickman, director of the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art and coordinator of the CARS Program. “It’s been ongoing since 1997. It’s supported by something called the FUND Endowment at CSU. Its purpose is to bring artists, critics and curators all of whom have a kind of national or international prominence to campus. We’re basically bringing someone of national prominence to campus so that they can interact with art students, with the public, with art classes.”

While the artists are here they share ideas and experience about art.

“They talk with us about their ideas, whether it’s in their art if they’re a practicing artist or their approach to the history of art and art criticism if they’re an art historian,” said Eleanor Moseman, Associate Professor of Art History at CSU. “In the case of Jenni Sorkin, she is an art historian who is also active in shaping the discourse in the field of feminist art history and she’s recently curated an exhibition that staged contemporary women artists. She’s theorizing how it is that performance art, installation art and contemporary forms of art speak to these kinds of gendered and social discourses.”

Sorkin’s talk focused on the feminist theories present in both her book and her curatorial work. She spoke about not only the legacy of oppression against women artists, but also other minority groups.

“Post war it took nearly half a century for the art of difference and identity to achieve true recognition and a place at the table,” Sorkin said.

Her recent work focuses on this time period in art and reframing the way it’s commonly looked at.

“One of the primary reasons we decided to re-look at post-war art through the lens of sculpture was to try to rethink a history of making,” Sorkin said. “The dominant narrative is still of abstract expressionist painting, and it’s dominated by male artists like Jackson Polluck and Willem DeKooning, and there are few women and people of color who have been added to the narrative. But primarily it’s a male dominated narrative that covers the first decade after WWII. What we thought about doing instead was thinking about sculpture as driving a wedge into this history, and if we examined the work of early women pioneers making sculpture that we could try to make headway in reversing, or at least, occupying this narrative and trying to reframe it and move it so that there were artists that would be reconsidered.”

Sorkin discussed the many women artists in the exhibition and the different struggles they went through in making their way into the art world. Many women at the time had no proper studio spaces. They made work in their kitchens and bedrooms, while simultaneously raising children and performing the many gendered duties the times expected of them. She also discussed the sexism that was present in shop classes and home economics programs in school during this time, and the effect that had on women who wanted to work in wood or metal sculpture. She explained the ways many of the artists in the exhibition came to sculpture through alternative methods and self teaching.

“She’s really on the cutting edge of thinking about the display of works of art in the context of museum gallery settings,” Moseman said of her curatorial work.

Sorkin also talked about her book “Live Form: Women, Ceramics and Community.” Her book focuses on the connection between performance art of the 1960s and `70s and pottery of the time, specifically in seeing pottery making as performance art.


“That’s really what I try to do in my book is retrain our thinking away from the finished object and toward a process based understanding of ceramics,” Sorkin said.

“In particular, she is interested in women artists who are engaged in ceramic pedagogy in rural America, and trying to find ways to place a different set of values on the practice and the process pottery,” Moseman said. “She connects these ideas of the craft of pottery to the high art form of performance art in the contemporary world. I’ve begun reading the book and it’s really quite insightful.”

Collegian reporter Ashley Potts can be reached online at or on Twitter @11smashley.