|A.I.R. GALLERY - Celebrating 40 years of advocating for women in the visual arts.|
Artists in Residence - A Short History
by Kat Griefen and Susan Bee
From its inaugural years, Artists in Residence (A.I.R. Gallery) has been an artist-run organization, as the gallery’s by-laws name the artists themselves as the governing board. Its cooperative nature and its democratic structure have meant that the members vote on all decisions and participate in monthly meetings to plan exhibitions, programs, and the overall direction of the gallery. Each artist pays dues and thus has ownership over the organization itself and their own career. In this way, the structure of A.I.R. differs from that of dealer-driven galleries. Unlike commercial spaces, the artists retain up to 90% of the profit from the sale of their work and determine the prices for which a piece will sell. In addition, incoming artists are chosen through a rigorous peer review process that includes reviewing the work of applicants, lengthy discussion, and a studio visit by current members. After joining A.I.R., each artist member exhibits in a solo show every two to three years and in a group show each season. These exhibitions create an important feedback mechanism that allows the individual artists to develop in front of an audience of the public, as well as their artist peers. As the first all-women’s, artist-run gallery, these shows provide a unique opportunity to exhibit in a particularly supportive environment.
Over the years, A.I.R. has been an important launching pad for many artists, some who have gone on to renown in commercial galleries. In other cases, artists have left their commercial representatives behind, finding that A.I.R. offers a level of control over their own careers that is uncommon in the art world. A.I.R. has also hosted hundreds of public- and community-oriented programs since opening its doors. The gallery’s professional development program designed to give gallery experience to students with art-related majors, and a series of performances, panels, and discussions on the topics of art and feminism have established A.I.R. as a force to be reckoned with. In addition to the gallery’s own artists, many other significant women artists and art professionals have found a place to showcase new work and ideas at A.I.R., such as: poets (Patti Smith, Anne Waldman), performance artists (Holly Hughes, Carolee Schneemann), filmmakers and video artists (Joan Jonas), curators, critics, and art historians (Lucy Lippard, Rosalind Krauss, Marcia Tucker, Roberta Smith, Arlene Raven), and gallerists (Betty Parsons, Holly Solomon, Kathryn Markel). These are only a few of the many distinguished participants in the gallery’s diverse programs.
Groundbreaking group exhibitions with an international scope such as: C. 7500, curated by Lucy Lippard (1974), Detail: The Special Task: An Exhibition of Works by Women Architects (1984), and Women: Touch, Ceramics (2007), curated by Sylvia Netzer, have been an important part of the gallery’s initiatives. Since 1995, A.I.R.’s Biennial series has featured talented emerging artists chosen by an invited curator. The Biennial’s strong curatorial history includes: Lowery Sims, Charlotta Kotik, Elisabeth Sussman, Anne Ellegood, Shamim Momin, Cornelia Butler, and Maura Reilly.
For 36 years, A.I.R. has fostered the development of women artists by exhibiting their diverse work, by providing leadership and community, as well as by maintaining a successful alternative model to the commercial gallery system. In 1981 the National Artists Program, then called the Affiliates Program, was created to broaden the network of support and opportunity for women artists across the country and enrich the gallery by offering a broader view of the current art dialogue, and introducing regional perspectives, issues, and visions. In 1993, the gallery’s artists recognized the need for a program to support emerging women artists in the early stages of their careers. Each year, the Fellowship Program now provides six underrepresented or emerging artists with their first solo exhibition, or their first solo exhibition in ten years, while focusing on building relationships with more experienced artists and art professionals. The Fellowship artists leave the program with important relationships, experiences, and skill sets that are essential to achieving their goals as visual artists. In 2010 the National member program was expanded to include International women artists - it is now the "National and International Members Program" - to foster a global art dialogue and expand the opportunities for women artists available worldwide.
Due to the support and long-term commitment of A.I.R.’s almost 200 artist members and fellows over the years, as well as its devoted series of directors, interns, and staff, A.I.R. continues to grow and to strive to meet the changing needs of women artists. The gallery has moved to several different locations over the years including: 97 Wooster Street (1972-1981), 63 Crosby Street (1981-1994), 40 Wooster Street (1994-2002), and 511 West 25th Street (2002-2008). The gallery is pleased to inaugurate its newest home, 111 Front Street in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, with a special historic exhibition.
In 2006, A.I.R. Gallery’s archive was acquired by The Downtown Collection of the Fales Library and Special Collections, which is housed at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University. A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show, Archival Materials from 1972 through Present, curated by Kat Griefen and Dena Muller. In the Spring of 2011 Julie Lohnes took Kat Griefen's place as the A.I.R. Gallery director. The show was on view at the Tracy/Barry Gallery from September 16 until December 13, 2008. A timeline of over 600 exhibition announcements mapped the changing artists and styles of the day. Posters, photographs, catalogues, administrative materials, articles, letters, and other correspondence illuminated the growth of the gallery in budget, physical size, and scope of activities and show the various affiliations of its artists with the larger art world. Artists who took the gallery itself as their subject matter had work on view as well. In celebration of the opening of the archives, we screened the short film, In Residence: A History of A.I.R. Gallery, directed by Meredith Drum. The film combined recent interviews of the time with A.I.R. artists and outside art professionals with stills and archival footage from the early years.
In our new location, we were pleased to present A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show, Work by A.I.R. Artists from 1972 to the Present, curated by Kat Griefen and Carey Lovelace, from October 2 to November 29, 2008. This historic two-part exhibition brought together artworks by over 75 of A.I.R.’s members that were created primarily during their years of membership. The artists ranged widely in their level of commercial success and renown in the larger art world. Lesser-known works by more familiar names were shown alongside works by artists with advanced careers, but little acknowledgment outside their peer group. As A.I.R.’s stream of artists has been fluid, with some artists leaving and then returning years later and others remaining a part of the organization for the full 36 years, the exhibition was not divided chronologically. We believed that the story of A.I.R. was not simply a linear one, but one about dialogue, community, and mutual support. The selected works had been organized to create a visual discourse showing the relationships, however subtle, between the works and the artists over the years.
This exhibition also offered an overview of the individual artistic achievements of A.I.R.’s artists. The organization has continued its commitment not to favor any one style over another, regardless of the fickle taste of the contemporary art world. For this reason, the selected works were diverse in style, approach, material, and processes employed. Feminist content was evident in some works. Other pieces challenged various oppressive social or political institutions of their day. This first full overview also underlined the groundbreaking work the gallery’s individual artists made in a number of then-new movements, such as environmental work or earthworks, to name an example. While all the artists participated in the feminist structure of the gallery, many of their works are primarily abstract, conceptual, or minimal. The creation of new strategies in their chosen field and innovations in the use of often-unconventional materials were also apparent in this exhibition. All media were represented: photography, sculpture, painting, performance, videos, sound work, installations, performance, and drawings. This diversity of approaches has been the hallmark of the work of the artists of the A.I.R. Gallery from 1972 to the present. While the story of a diversity of visions and viewpoints is a more complicated one to relate we were proud to have the opportunity to tell it like it is.