A.I.R. Gallery (Artists in Residence, Inc.) is a feminist, artist-run non-profit arts organization for women and non-binary artists located in Brooklyn, NY. Founded in 1972, A.I.R. continues to build upon its history, bridging art and activism by providing a space for artists across a spectrum of intersectional identities and cultural perspectives. The organization advocates for a multiplicity of voices in the arts while facilitating intergenerational dialogue and continuing investigations of feminism.
A.I.R. Gallery and The Feminist Institute have collaborated to curate a digital archival exhibition of A.I.R.’s first 25 years of history. The physical archive resides at The Downtown Collection of the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University. Below, you will find a collection of ephemera, including scans of original posters, photographs, catalogs, articles, letters, and other correspondence organized in four sections in chronological order from the year 1972 to the year 1997. You will also find essays that provide further context for selected objects written by individuals involved with A.I.R. throughout its almost fifty years of operations. The texts were authored by: Christian Camacho-Light, Amber Esseiva, Roxana Fabius, Nicole Kaack, Megan Liberty, Lucy Lippard, Nancy Princenthal, and YiWen Wang. This exhibition presents A.I.R. Gallery as an organization whose goal has always been to support equitable representation in the arts.
The founding of A.I.R. is the result of twenty women artists coming together in 1972 to create what would be, and still is, a gallery that looks beyond conventional ways of thinking about women’s art. This great collaborative effort has manifested into an organization that facilitates the sharing of feminist perspectives in New York City and beyond.
The First Year
“The whole of that first year … there was a kind of cohesiveness and caring. There was a kind of support from within. Everyone wanted everyone’s show to be a success. I was always thinking about the gallery. We wanted the gallery to come on showing really strong work and, caring about this, we wanted each show to be a real success.”
Loretta Dunkelman, from ‘Artists in Residence’: The First Five Years by Corinne Robins, Womanart, Winter 1977–78
In this 1972 photograph taken by David Attie, six founding members of A.I.R. Gallery are pictured in front of the gallery’s first space at 97 Wooster Street. Pictured from left to right, the members standing are Loretta Dunkelman, Dotty Attie, Howardena Pindell, and Anne Healy. The seated members are Nancy Kitchel and Judith Bernstein.
“There was from the beginning a general feeling about A.I.R. … Everyone sees it as an entity, an identity apart from the members’ work.”
Blythe Bonnen, from ‘Artists in Residence’: The First Five Years by Corinne Robins, Womanart, Winter 1977–78
When the group was brainstorming possible names for the gallery, Pindell suggested the name Eyre Gallery after the protagonist of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. This became Artists in Residence Gallery (A.I.R.), in reference to the signs hung on the floors of the predominantly industrial buildings where the artists resided. The name also relates to the idea of women artists making themselves known as permanent residents of the male-dominated art world.
After visiting fifty-five storefronts, the founding members of A.I.R. decided to rent a 70-foot-long space at 97 Wooster Street, in downtown Manhattan, as their first gallery. With the plaster peeling and the floors warped, the artists renovated the space themselves, using their carpentry and electrical wiring skills to ready the gallery for its first exhibition. On September 16, 1972, it officially opened to the public with its first exhibition, a group show featuring the work of all of the collective’s members.
September 16, 1972 marked the historic opening of A.I.R. Gallery at 97 Wooster Street. In this announcement poster for the inaugural season’s programs, a photograph of each artist’s work accompanies the dates of their exhibition. The artists featured in this poster are Dotty Attie, Rachel Bas-Cohain, Judith Bernstein, Blythe Bohnen, Maude Boltz, Agnes Denes, Daria Dorosh, Loretta Dunkelman, Mary Grigoriadis, Harmony Hammond, Anne Healy, Laurace James, Nancy Kitchel, Louise Kramer, Rosemary Mayer, Patsy Norvell, Howardena Pindell, Nancy Spero, Susan Williams, and Barbara Zucker. These twenty women artists would be featured in two group exhibitions and ten two-person shows, each for three-week blocks, over the course of a year. The year would begin and end with a ten-member group show.
On its front, the postcard features two mirrored images of A.I.R.‘s original location on 97 Wooster Street in SoHo. When opened, the interior reveals an abstract painting by Mary Grigoriadis, on the left, and four drawings by Dotty Attie, on the right, which mimics the spatial dynamics of a gallery.
Lucy Lippard, a curator, writer, and an ardent early supporter of A.I.R., started the collection of slides of women artists’ work that would become known as the Women’s Art Registry. Founding members Barbara Zucker and Susan Williams used over 600 slides from the Women’s Art Registry to find and select additional artists to join the gallery. On November 13, 1972, they wrote a letter to Lippard about their surprise in discovering that the Women’s Art Registry was given to another cooperative art space located at 55 Mercer Street. Given its central role in A.I.R.’s founding, they had expected it to be housed at their gallery at 97 Wooster Street.
To close its 1973 season, A.I.R. Gallery held a group show of work by the full A.I.R. membership at 97 Wooster Street. This invitation features the handwritten signatures of the nineteen A.I.R. artist-members: Loretta Dunkelman, Rachel bas-Cohain, Maude Boltz, Agnes Denes, Pat Lasch, Howardena Pindell, Judith Bernstein, Anne Healy, Daria Dorosh, Nancy Spero, Mary Grigoriadis, Louise Kramer, Sari Dienes, Patsy Norvell, Barbara Zucker, Laurace James, Dotty Attie, Rosemary Mayer, and Blythe Bohnen. The exhibition featured a range of different media, including performances, conceptual art, sculpture, painting, drawing, and printmaking.
Related items from the archive
A.I.R. Gallery (Artists in Residence) is the first all-female artists 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 a not-for-profit, self-underwritten arts organization with a board of directors made up of its New York-based artists. The gallery was initially located in SoHo at 97 Wooster Street and 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.
73 Digital Objects20 Related People2 Related Collections
Commissioned Writers (Chapter 1):
Her essay and full bio are available here.
Lucy R. Lippard
Her essay and full bio are available here.
Special thanks to Fales Library at NYU Special Collections Center and NYU Special Collections Curator for the Arts and Humanities Nicholas Martin, Marie Williams Chant and Caroline Bracken at The Feminist Institute, Christian Camacho-Light, Daria Dorosh, Joan Snitzer, Susan Bee, and all the members of the A.I.R. community who helped make this project and the last 50 years possible.