Susanna Temkin ('07)

Susanna Temkin

For one art history alumna, Duke provided deep exposure to Latin American art and history that has fueled her graduate work.

Susanna Temkin, Trinity ’07, is now a Ph.D. candidate studying art history at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Temkin is blending her majors from Duke—art history and Spanish—to advance her exploration of Latin American art, with a focus on Cuba.

Temkin also works in a gallery called Cecilia de Torres Ltd in the Soho district of New York City. There, she is working on the catalogue raisonne of the Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García. She has also worked directly with contemporary artists by publishing interviews and curating exhibitions. Her exhibition featuring the sculptures of Argentinean-American artist Marta Chilindron will be held at the Institute of Fine Arts in November.

“At the gallery, I love being able to work directly with artists and actually see the art that I’m learning about in person,” Temkin said.

At Duke, Temkin cultivated her interest in Latin American modernism, with the guidance of Esther Gabara, the E. Blake Byrne associate professor of romance studies and art, art history & visual studies. She wrote her senior thesis on the art of the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1659), featuring such great artists as El Greco, Diego Velazquez and Francisco de Zurbaran. A flourishing period of Spanish arts and literature that produced works such as the classic El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, the Golden Age coincided with the political rise and decline of the Spanish Habsberg dynasty.         

Temkin credits her Duke education as preparing her well for graduate study. “Many of my peers focusing on Latin American art at the graduate level don’t have any background in the topic,” Temkin said.

“At Duke, however, I had this really great introduction to different ideas and projects I can now work on as a graduate student.”

Temkin also saw a new opportunities open up for arts students at Duke while she was an undergraduate. The Nasher Museum of Art opened on Duke’s campus in 2005.

“The opening of the Nasher was really essential to my Duke experience,” Temkin said. “It generated excitement amongst all students, not just art history majors.”

A member of the Nasher Student Advisory Board, Temkin worked with Sarah Schroth, adjunct associate professor and Nancy Hanks senior curator at the Nasher. Her work in the Nasher was funded by the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which supports undergraduate research for those pursuing careers in higher education.

She noted that the Nasher provided her with exposure to different career paths for an art historian, and helped her decide that she was interested in pursuing a museum profession, perhaps as a curator. The Nasher’s opening has also cultivated a larger awareness of the arts on campus.

“When I was at Duke, the arts were building momentum. But I often felt like I was probably the only art history major in any room, surrounded by engineers and pre-meds,” she said. “When I came back from my five-year reunion it just seems like the arts are such an integral part of Duke. The feeling has changed a lot since I was a student.”

Temkin noted that most of her art history classmates from Duke went on to pursue opportunities and careers in medicine or engineering. But for her, art history has opened several doors for future careers that interest her.

“I actually came in to Duke as a history major, but I gravitated toward art history,” Temkin said. “Art history is a field that teaches you how to make arguments and how to write well, and how to look at the world through a visual lens.”

As she reflects on her undergraduate experience, Temkin said she wished she had been able to take more contemporary art courses. Her Spanish major and English minor, however, allowed her to diversify her coursework and establish a broader knowledge base that she continues to utilize in graduate school.

For current undergraduates, Temkin gives the following advice:  “You don't have to wait until you think you're an expert to get really involved with art and art history. If you have an idea to produce a show or to start a project or installation, you shouldn't wait until you have a degree or until you are a senior to take advantage of all that Duke has to offer.”