A.I.R. was the first all female cooperative gallery in the United States. It was founded in 1972 with the objective of providing a professional and permanent exhibition space for women artists during a time in which the works shown at commercial galleries in New York City were almost exclusively by male artists. A.I.R. is an alternative means to exhibit women's art. The gallery was originally located in SoHo at 97 Wooster Street, and was located on 111 Front Street in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn until 2015. In May 2015, A.I.R. Gallery moved to its current location at 155 Plymouth St, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
A.I.R. is a non-profit organization that aims to show the diversity and artistic talent of women, to teach, to challenge stereotypes of female artists, and to subvert the historically male-dominated commercial gallery scene, with the overall hope to serve as an example for other artists who wish to realize their own art cooperative endeavors.
Barbara Zucker and Susan Williams, two artists and friends, confronted the challenges of finding a dealer and decided to look for other women artists to start a co-op. Feminism at that time had barely penetrated the New York Art scene, a 1970 Whitney Museum protest drew attention to the less than 5 percent female representation. Directed by activist art critic Lucy Lippard, the two, together with Dotty Attie and Mary Grigoriadis, visited 55 studios to select and invite women artists to form a co-op.
At a first meeting on March 17, 1972 in William’s loft, women artists met, among them Maude Boltz, Nancy Spero, Louise Bourgeois, Howardena Pindell, Ree Morton, Harmony Hammond, Cynthia Carlson. In the end, there was a highly eclectic mix of 20 artists (some of the approved declined joining the group, nervous of being in an all-female gallery). For the artists themselves, their work and exhibition goals was all about quality. Still, having to deal with feminist politics was in the center, which meant fighting prejudices and fears that the showings would be considered second-rate. After the opening, the story goes, one man said grudgingly, “Okay you did it; you found 20 good women artists. But that’s it.”
The gallery was structured to be both an exhibition space for art by women and a radical, progressive, even subversive, not-for-profit institution. 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 membership 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. Incoming artists are chosen through a rigorous peer review process that includes reviewing the works of applicants, lengthy discussions and a studio visit by current members. Each artist has to curate her own show, which allows for experimentation and risks that are not always possible in commercial settings. The group soon acknowledged the importance of building a heritage: collaborations and international group shows, in parts curated by their members, were established. The fellowship program in its earliest years provided sponsorship on a case-by-case basis as funds were available.
Founded in 1972, A.I.R. is the first non-profit, artist-run gallery for women in the country. The announcement for the gallery’s first exhibition elaborates our founding concept best, stating, “A.I.R. does not sell art; it changes attitudes about art by women. A.I.R. offers women artists a space to show work as innovative, transitory and free of market trends as the artists’ conceptions demands.” Based on the feminist principles of economic cooperation and decision by consensus, A.I.R. continues to offer an alternative venue for women that protects the creative process and the individual voice of the artist.
The name “AIR” arose when, in a first meeting, artist member Howardena Pindell suggested “Jane Eyre”. From that came “air” – then, “A.I.R.” This was also a reference to the “Artist in Residence” Certification given by the city to allow artists to live in otherwise illegal Soho commercial spaces.
Monday-Night Program Series 1972-1981; Current Issue Series 1982-1987 (both programs included general-audience panels on criticism, the market, public art as well as ‘how-to’s – for example ‘tax night’, and so on); Exhibition Programs: Solo Shows of Gallery Artists; Sponsored Solo Shows for Fellowship Artists; Group Shows of National Artists; Group Shows designed to include a broader community of women artists such as the "Generations" invitational series and juried Biennial Exhibitions; Lectures/Symposia/Panels; Fellowship Program; Internship Program
The Fellowship Program, founded in 1993, is open to all self-identified women artists who have never had a solo show in NYC, or who have not had a solo show in NYC in the last ten years, outside of an educational or not-for-profit venue. The Fellowship Program is structured to give the Fellows the opportunity to develop their work in preparation for a solo show, to build relationships with other artists and arts professionals, and acquire skills necessary to maintain a not-for-profit gallery or arts organization. The Fellows leave the program with a series of naturally forged relationships, experiences, and essential skill sets that are necessary to continue their careers as visual artists.
The first, self-renovated location for the inaugural A.I.R. exhibition was 97 Wooster Street, which opened on September 16, 1972. After occupying a gallery space at 63 Crosby Street from 1981–1994, A.I.R. Gallery was located at 40 Wooster Street from 1994–2002, at 511 West 25th Street from 2002–2008 and opened a new space at 111 Front Street # 228, Dumbo - Brooklyn, New York, starting with The History Show on October 2, 2008. In May 2015, A.I.R. Gallery moved to a new location. The current address is 155 Plymouth St, Brooklyn, NY 11201; telephone (212) 255-6651.
Dotty Attie, Rachel bas-Cohain, Judith Bernstein, Blythe Bohnen, Maude Boltz, Agnes Denes, Daria Dorosh, Loretta Dunkelman, Mary Grigoriadis, Harmony Hammond, Laurace James, Nancy Kitchell, Louise Kramer, Anne Healy, Rosemary Mayer, Patsy Norvell, Howardena Pindell, Nancy Spero, Susan Williams, Barbara Zucker
Artists whose works have been exhibited at the gallery include: