Throughout her career, Barbara Zucker has worked to provide a strong network of support amongst women artists. Along with fellow A.I.R. founding member Susan Williams, Zucker decided to form A.I.R. as a way to combat the underrepresentation of emerging artists--primarily women--in the heavily male-dominated New York gallery world at the time. Zucker’s aim was to create a professional work environment in which women artists could show their work in a space where their artistic careers are taken seriously. By 1972, A.I.R. had become a tangible reality; the founding members took up residence at 97 Wooster, and many women artists who had previously been denied gallery representation now had a platform with which to exhibit their experimental, genre-bending, and multimedia works of art to a wide audience.
Zucker would continue to curate exhibitions at A.I.R. beyond her years as a member. One such exhibition, a 2004 show titled Aftermath that later traveled to the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, showcased sculptural work by Wendy Hirschberg and paintings by Leigh Burton. In a brief statement accompanying the exhibition, Zucker reflects on the decades following A.I.R.’s inception, and the everlasting need for artists to have a space to show their work. She explains how her decision to curate a show of Hirschberg and Burton’s works was twofold: to show work that she was “convinced was terrific,” and to “draw attention to the work of under recognized artists.”
Zucker’s ambitions for a more equitable art world extended beyond A.I.R. into her career in academia. During her time as a professor at the University of Vermont, where she taught from 1979-2001, Zucker introduced studies specifically for women’s art, and advocated on behalf of other women professors who were regarded as highly as their male peers.
The subject matter of Zucker’s own work frequently explores the politicization of women’s bodies in the public sphere. Between 1989 and 1997, for her series “For Beauty’s Sake,” Zucker used sculpture to tackle subjects such as aging and plastic surgery, infusing industrial materials like steel, bronze, resin, and fiberglass with a humanistic dimension evocative of self-conscious body parts. Zucker often devotes several years to exploring a concept, allowing the work to evolve and give rise to new conversations over time. In “Time Signatures,” a series developed between 1998 and 2013, Zucker designed sculptures based on the wrinkles in her own face, later repeating the process with friends as well as women in history who she admired. The project gradually expanded into one that not only critiqued the negative perceptions surrounding older women, but also celebrated the subjects of each sculpture for their influence on culture and their impact on Zucker’s own life and career.
Barbara Zucker was born in 1940 in Philadelphia. She received her MFA from Hunter College in New York, where she settled and established her career as an artist. While she is known primarily as a sculptor, Zucker is also a prolific writer and teacher. She has contributed to many journals and magazines, such as the Art Journal, Art in America, and Heresies, and was an editorial assistant at Art News from 1974-1981. Zucker has an extensive curatorial background as well, having curated exhibitions for A.I.R. in addition to several shows for the Francis Colburn Gallery while working as a professor at the University of Vermont. She lives and works in both Vermont and New York.