A.I.R. Gallery Celebrates 50 Years as First U.S. Artist-Led, Feminist Cooperative, Digital Exhibition Commissioned by The Feminist Institute Launches Next Week on Google Arts & Culture
BROOKLYN, NY – Artists in Residence, Inc. (A.I.R. Gallery, A.I.R.) today announced the celebration of its 50th Anniversary as the first not-for-profit, artist-directed and maintained gallery for women artists in the United States. The 50th Anniversary commemoration begins with the launch of A.I.R.: The First 25 Years, a four-chapter digital exhibition and archive commissioned by The Feminist Institute (TFI) and hosted on TFI’s Google Arts & Culture exhibition space.
A.I.R.: The First 25 Years includes essays by leading voices in feminism and art including Lucy Lippard, Nancy Princenthal, Amber Esseiva, Megan Liberty, and more, and will remain open and accessible to the public at artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-feminist-institute. The digital exhibition is a continuation of TFI’s multi-year effort to archive and make works of feminist thought and advancement more accessible to the public through digitization.
Coinciding with A.I.R.'s official opening on September 16, 1972, at 97 Wooster Street in New York City, the exhibition’s first chapter launches on September 23 and includes ephemera, like an A.I.R Gallery fold-out poster and show fliers, as well as photos featuring the group in front of the gallery and candids to tell the story of the gallery’s nascent stages. The foundational chapter explores the inception and development of A.I.R.’s first gallery space in SoHo, and the 20 women artists who made it all possible.
Gallery announcement and exhibition schedule poster for A.I.R Gallery. September-October 1972. Chapter 1, A.I.R: The First 25 Years. Courtesy of Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU.
Chapter two will open on September 30, chapter three on October 7 and chapter four on October 14. The subsequent chapters delve into the challenges and evolution of A.I.R.'s cooperative membership model, exhibitions, and activism through digitized archival materials from 1972 to 1997. The collaboration between A.I.R. and TFI provides broader digital access to A.I.R.’s historic collection, which physically resides at Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University. The collection has traditionally only been open to scholars or those with academic credentials.
“A.I.R.’s rich history in setting the stage for the ways in which women artists have been pioneers in both the art world and greater society deserves to be uncovered, explored, understood,” said Susan Stainman, A.I.R. Board Chair and Member. “There is great enthusiasm that exists within the A.I.R. community for being able to share more of their stories and the ways in which their lives and practices have been impacted by being members of the collective. I am proud to celebrate our 50th year by making what we’ve known inside the collective as members finally known by the greater public through this project with TFI.”
“As we look together as a community toward the next 50 years of championing women and non-binary artists, I can think of no more auspicious moment than this to showcase the first episodes of this radical project begun by 20 women artists in 1972,” said Christian Camacho-Light who was recently appointed as A.I.R.’s first non-binary individual to serve as executive director and who has contributed an essay on the activism in A.I.R.’s history. “As A.I.R.'s founders did half a century ago, TFI took the lay of the cultural landscape, and finding it lacking, set out to address the lack themselves. We are grateful for their partnership and the opportunity they've afforded us to make space for our past in carving out our future.”
Mary Beth Edelson. Photograph Outside of 63 Crosby Street. 1981. Chapter 2, A.I.R: The First 25 Years. Courtesy of Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU.
Commissioned by TFI, A.I.R.: The First 25 Years was curated by Roxana Fabius, A.I.R.’s former Executive Director, and co-organized with Taylor Bluestine, A.I.R.’s Communications and Programs Associate. Later this year, the digital exhibitions and ephemera will also be available on TFI’s newly redesigned thefeministinstitute.org alongside other feminist documentation, including materials from the New York Public Library, Mary Beth Edelson, supersisters™, and Addresses Project.
“A.I.R.: The First 25 Years is a perfect example of feminist archiving at work. The Feminist Institute is thrilled to have commissioned the exhibition as part of our digital exhibition program,” said Dena Muller, of TFI on the collaboration with A.I.R., “We are excited to be a part of the 50th anniversary of such a historic organization that is essential to feminist art history.” Muller was also quoted in Artnet’s article, “A.I.R. Gallery Broke Barriers. A New Online Archive Tells the Story of the Women-Run Collective,” written by Susan Cascone, speaking about the digital exhibition.
Lucy Lippard. Invitation Card for Speaking Volumes: Women Artists’ Books. June 1980. Chapter 3, A.I.R: The First 25 Years. Courtesy of Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU.
“As A.I.R. celebrates its 50th anniversary, it feels fundamental that more people have access to its history, the experiments, the successes and the failures of this unique organization and its community. While this presentation is very partial I hope it’s the beginning of a collectively built story that represents the many voices that have been part of A.I.R. through its existence ” said Roxana Fabius, who served as A.I.R.'s executive director for six years, until stepping down in June. Fabius has also contributed an essay to the project. “It has been a real pleasure and honor to collaborate with TFI and all the contributors to develop this first journey into the digitization of the A.I.R. archives.”
In 1972 Susan Williams, Barbara Zucker, Dotty Attie, Maude Boltz, Mary Grigoriadis, Nancy Spero, Rachel bas-Cohain, Judith Bernstein, Blythe Bohnen, Agnes Denes, Daria Dorosh, Loretta Dunkelman, Harmony Hammond, Laurace James, Nancy Kitchell, Louise Kramer, Anne Healy, Rosemary Mayer, Patsy Norvell, and Howardena Pindell established A.I.R. with the intention of it becoming a space to look beyond conventional ways of thinking about women’s art. When A.I.R. opened its first show, 96 percent of NYC art galleries exclusively showcased the work of male artists.
Flyer for panel discussion “Who Cares About Feminism? Art and Politics in the Nineties”. November 1991. Chapter 4, A.I.R: The First 25 Years. Courtesy of Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU.
Since its opening, A.I.R. has been crucial to the careers of many women artists and curators who are now household names, allowing them to experiment and show their works in ways that the traditional gallery and institutional models would not allow. The gallery continues to feature the works of its members that include women and non-binary artists from across the United States. Since 1976, it has also partnered with other women-led galleries and artists to broaden its international feminist network with exchange exhibitions of Japanese, Israeli, Polish, and Ukrainian women artists, including a partnership with Polish gallery lokal_30 that led to the exhibitions Sleepless in Warsaw that opened at A.I.R. in August 2022 and Lather, Rinse, Repeat, an exhibition of A.I.R. artists currently on view in Warsaw.
Over the years, the women of A.I.R. have faced many challenges, not only from the male-dominated art world and within a patriarchal society but also internally with the challenges of running a gallery democratically, where every member continues to vote on every decision. As the gallery reflects on and celebrates the past 50 years, it’s also looking ahead to its next 50 years, now under the leadership of Camacho-Light, and a set of social, political, and cultural challenges facing women and non-binary people in the United States and around the world that many thought were overcome.
A.I.R.: The First 25 Years will be available at artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-feminist-institute. For more information, please visit airgallery.org.
This press release is also available at https://thefeministinstitute.substack.com/.