The Sari Dienes Archive, currently on display at RARE, is a record of not only her own life and accomplishments, but a detailed account of the evolving art world of New York City in the last half of the twentieth century. An important cultural event during that period, one which has had a lasting impact on women in the arts, is documented throughout a significant segment of her papers: the formation and growth of the ground-breaking Artists In Residence Gallery.
The Artists In Residence Gallery, or A.I.R., emerged from Susan Williams and Barbara Zucker’s frustration with the under-representation of women artists in New York galleries. Lucy Lippard has written that prior to A.I.R., “despite gains made by the early women artists’ movement, the majority of the emergent women had no place to show their art.” To rectify this, in 1972 Williams and Zucker—along with Dotty Attie, Maude Boltz, Mary Grigoriadis, and Nancy Spero—opened A.I.R. at 97 Wooster Street, the first non-profit, artist-directed gallery for women artists in the United States. Fourteen additional artists were invited to join as co-founders, and finally women in New York not only had a gallery space that exclusively promoted their work, but one where they also could be their own curators; it was a historic moment.
Dienes joined A.I.R. just a year later, and exhibited regularly over the next two decades, with thirteen solo shows alone between 1973 and 1992, the year she died; invitation maquettes for three of those exhibitions are on display, as well as related group show material.
Maquettes for Sari Dienes exhibitions at A.I.R. Gallery
Dienes’ archive also reveals her intimate involvement in A.I.R. councils, fundraising events, and financial meetings, many of which were duly noted in her copious appointment books. Additionally included are numerous drafts of the gallery’s mission statement, created after a lengthy process of revisions, updates, and sometimes acerbic feedback, such as a note that the document was “dry as a martini, yet upbeat.” The ultimate version, issued in 1987, both reiterated and built upon the fundamental objectives that had formed the governing basis of A.I.R. from its inception: “art by women,” “advancing the status of women artists,” and “exhibiting the work of the highest quality.”
Sari Dienes' datebooks
A.I.R. budget details for 1983-1984
Minutes for an A.I.R. meeting on January 22, 1986
Archival material documenting the creation of the A.I.R. mission statement
Today, over four decades after its founding, A.I.R. continues to “provide a professional and permanent exhibition space for women to present work of quality and diversity,” and has transformed into an organization supporting the careers of female artists not only through public showcases, but also fellowships and grants. A former director of the gallery, Dena Muller, notes that “what is most remarkable about A.I.R., these many years later, is that it is open today and largely unchanged in its core mission: to support individual artists through feminism’s collaborative approach.” The timing of its creation during the 1970s, a period marked by strengthening feminism and demands for equal rights, positioned A.I.R. as an influential agent for women beyond the New York art world, an aspiration echoed in their commitment to “political awareness and voice” and bringing “new understanding to old attitudes about women in the arts.” Dienes’ valuable contributions within the gallery for nearly twenty years helped ensure that those ambitions became a reality.