A.I.R. Gallery

A.I.R. Gallery

A.I.R. was the first 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 at 97 Wooster Street, although it has since then moved to 511 West 25th Street.

A.I.R. is a non-profit organization that aims to display the diversity and artistic talent of women, to teach, to challenge stereotypes of female artists, and to subvert what they believe is a male-dominated commercial gallery scene, with the overall hope to serve as an example for other artists amidst realizing their own art co-op endeavors.


Barbara Zucker and Susan Williams, two artists and friends, confronted the challenges of finding a dealer and decided to look out for other women artists and found 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 critic Lucy Lippard, the two, together with Dotty Attie and Mary Grigoriadis, visited 55 studios to approve and invite women artists to join their co-op.

At a first meeting on March 17, 1972 in William’s loft, women artists met, among them Maude Boltz, Nancy Spero, Louise Burgeois, Howardena Pindell, Ree Morton, Harmony Hammond, Cynthia Carlson. In the end, there was a highly eclectical 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 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.” [Carey Lovelace, a.i.r. ways. From the Catalogue: “A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show, Sept. 16 – Dec. 12, 2008 at Tracy/Barry Gallery, Bobst Library, NYU and A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show, Oct. 2 – Nov. 29, 2008 and Nov. 6 to Nov. 29, 2008 at A.I.R. Gallery, Dumbo, NY”]

In the following years, the gallery developed as a one-half for-profit-gallery and one-half 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 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. [Kat Griefen and Susan Bee, artists in residence: a short history. From the Catalogue: “A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show”] Each artist has to curate her own show, which allows for experimentation and risks that are not always possible in commercial settings. [http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/fales/air.html] 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. [Dena Muller, A.i.r. Gallery: a space-time continuum. From the Catalogue: “A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show”]


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. [Carey Lovelace, a.i.r. ways. From the Catalogue: “A.I.R. Gallery: The History Show”]


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

Gallery Locations

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.

Founding Members

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, Rosemarie Mayer, Patsy Norvell, Howardena Pindell, Nancy Spero, Susan Williams, Barbara Zucker [http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/fales/air.html]


External links

* [http://www.airgallery.org/ A.I.R. Gallery website]
* [http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/fales/air.html The Fales Library Guide to the A.I.R. Gallery Archives]

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