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SOHO20 Gallery was founded in 1973 by a group of women artists intent on achieving professional excellence in an industry where there was a gross lack of opportunities for women to succeed. SOHO20 was one of the first galleries in Manhattan to showcase the work of an all-woman membership and most of the members joined the organization as emerging artists. These artists were provided with exhibition opportunities that they couldn’t find elsewhere. As a result of their involvement with the gallery, they were recognized more widely. The achievements of many SOHO20 artists have been reported in publications such as The New York Times, The Village Voice, Arts Magazine, The Soho Weekly News, and Craft Horizons. Some notable artists who have benefited from participating in exhibitions at SOHO20 are Sana Musasama, Maron Hassinger, Clare Moore, Lil Picard, and Jane Teller, as well as the architects Anne King, May Callas and Sarah Harkness.
Early History (1973−80)
Inspired by the newly founded, all-women A.I.R. Gallery (est. 1972), SOHO20 Gallery was conceived and established by Joan Glueckman, Mary Ann Gillies, and Marilyn Raymond, who were joined by the founding members Elena Borstein, Barbara Coleman, Maureen Connor, Eunice Golden, Marge Helenchild, Cynthia Mailman, Marion Ranyak, Rachel Rolon de Clet, Halina Rusak, Lucy Sallick, Morgan Sanders, Rosalind Shaffer, Sylvia Sleigh, Eileen Spikol, May Stevens, Suzanne Weisberg, and Sharon Wybrants.
These 20 forward-thinking and industrious women created an artist-run organization devoted to the mission of increasing public awareness of the excellence and diversity of women’s art. SOHO20’s first news release (October 1973) stated, "In keeping with the feminist ideal of women defining themselves, the criterion for membership is professional excellence without restriction of style, medium, or theme. Twenty one-woman shows are planned which will demonstrate the variety of means and images through which women artists have chosen to express themselves.” The Gallery was originally located at 99 Spring Street in Soho, a neighborhood in downtown New York City.
After the first season, several artists left the gallery. In 1974, Shirley Gorelick, Kate Resek, and Susan Hoeltzel joined; Vernita Nemec, C.R. Peck, Diane Churchill, and Noreen Bumby became artist–members in 1975.
In the 1980s, the benefits and effectiveness of SOHO20 and other artist-run galleries were widely discussed in art publications. Artspeak focused on the impact that SOHO20 had in establishing artists' careers, where “some artists retain membership here while also being in private galleries; Sylvia Sleigh and Elena Borstein at SOHO20 and May Stevens at Lerner Heller have found the added exposure of great benefit.”
In 1982, the gallery was achieving consistent success and receiving ample media attention. The members decided to move to a new space at 469 Broome Street, another location in Soho, and began to emphasize the importance of inviting other non-member women artists to exhibit.
In order to serve the public and create opportunities for underrepresented artists, SOHO20 Gallery obtained legal non-profit 501(c)3 status in 1989. This enabled the gallery to receive funding from the New York State Council on the Arts for two exhibition series, Emerging Women Artists and Senior Women Artists, Ageless Perceptions, both of which ran for four years and were well-attended.
By the end of the 1980s, SOHO20 had established a reputation for featuring exhibits that exposed relevant social and political issues. In 1985, Private Gone Public was acknowledged by Grace Glueck in The New York Times, who wrote, “Another show of work by six ‘gut issue’ artists—all women—assembled by the art critic Ellen Lubell … [O]verall, it's an eloquent little show.” In 1990, an exhibition curated by Faith Ringgold was a tribute to the civil rights workers killed in Mississippi in 1964, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, The Mississippi Three: The Struggle Continues. The exhibition featured works by six African-American women artists who made public their personal reflections on the deaths of the civil rights workers and presented their views about the continuing struggle for civil rights in America. Accompanying Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, The Mississippi Three: The Struggle Continues was a “mail art” show of 400 works by 200 artists from South Africa. Organized and curated by the SOHO20 member-artist Janet Goldner, South African Mail: Images From Inside later traveled and was exhibited in other gallery locations in the U.S.
International exchanges began in 1990, when members showed in Germany with the support of the Goethe House. In 1998, the artist-member Eleonora Tammes and her husband, Orson van de Plassche, secured funds from the Mondrian Foundation, the Anjer Foundation, Merrill Lynch, and the Netherlands America Foundation, which enabled SOHO20 members to exhibit in Amsterdam at the De Zaaijer Gallery. The show was reviewed in the major Dutch newspapers—De Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad, Algemeen Dagblad—and was featured on chanel ATV (Amsterdam TV).
Also in 1990, SOHO20 presented the exhibition Blacklisted/Whitewashed and Red Handed, which featured works related to issues of censorship, funding restrictions, and 1st Amendment rights after funding for the National Endowment for the Arts had been cut. This exhibition of painting and sculpture by SOHO20 artists and artist–interns from Washington Irving High School in New York City united the visions of adult and youth artists. Later in 1990, the Organization of Pan Asian American Women and SOHO20 Gallery presented an art auction of works by Asian artists, including Martin Wong and Helen Oji, to benefit the New York Asian Women’s Center, which addresses the problem of mistreated women in Asian-American communities. In 1994, SOHO20 hosted an invitational exhibition of work that addressed the fragile state of world ecology, Effect or Infect: Art and Ecology.
Beginning in 1994, SOHO20 released an annual call for artists for the Annual International Exhibit of Women’s Art, which is juried by notable artists and curators, including Clare Bell (Assistant Curator, Guggenheim Museum), Charlotta Kotik (Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum), Evelyn Hankins (Assistant Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art), Judy Hecker (Assistant Curator, MoMA), Fereshteh Daftari (Assistant Curator, MoMA), Lilian Tone (Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA), Carrie Springer (Senior Curatorial Assistant, Whitney Museum of American Art), Chakaia Booker, Phong Bui, and Dean Daderko (Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston). This annual exhibition has given more than 300 artists the opportunity to show at SOHO20 Gallery. An annual "Best in Show" is awarded a solo exhibition.
In 1996, SOHO20 moved to a third location at 545 Broadway.
The gallery relocated to 511 West 25th Street in Chelsea at the of 2001. SOHO20 began to invite literary artists for readings, including Linda Nochlin, who read her poetry. Between 2003 and 2010, SOHO20 hosted events led by the organization Artists Talk on Art (ATOA). Weekly ATOA panel discussions featured topics such as Dialogue on Digital Art, Trends in Book Art, Overview of the Art for Transit Program, What is Fine Art?, and Museums and Alternative Spaces. These panels brought together established artists, critics, dealers, gallery directors, museum curators, and community leaders, as well as a broad cross section of audience members from New York.
In an effort to give back and use art to promote awareness and understanding of global issues, SOHO20 members have often used their exhibition opportunities to help others. In 2005, the artist Nelleke Nix had a solo benefit exhibition, Lions Share, the net proceeds of which were donated to bovine tuberculosis research and used for medicine to treat the lions of South Africa to curb the spread of the deadly disease. Also in 2005, Lucy Hodgson’s exhibition, Undercurrents, donated sales proceeds to Mercy Corps for Tsunami Victim Aid. 2005 ended with an invitational exhibition, Small Works, for which artist-members invited other artists to exhibit for the month of December. Portions of the proceeds from the sales were donated to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund.
In 2007, continuing with feminist-inspired exhibitions, SOHO20 organized a juried exhibition in conjunction with the Feminist Art Project through Rutgers University, Adam’s Rib, Eve’s Air In Her Hair, a concept exhibition that examined the many forms of Eve (female identity), and a Latin-American art exhibition, Fuerza Argentinos, featuring a group of female Argentinean artists, most of whom were receiving little artistic recognition beyond Argentina.
In 2008, SOHO20 hosted its first all-woman video show, Boxing Gloves and Bustiers, which was juried by the video and performance artist Kate Gilmore. SOHO20 has also been host to various film screenings, such as LOOK HERE, a portrait of Sylvia Sleigh in 2010. The documentary, which addresses the life and art of a SOHO20 founding member and leading artist of the feminist movement, was produced by filmmaker/actress Paula Ewin.
In late 2009, the gallery relocated to its fifth location on West 27th street.
In 2010, Diane Churchill organized a series of talks and dialogues, INTERNATIONAL FOCUS-Women in Crisis, which dealt with human rights issues such as sex trafficking, child soldiers, and genital mutilation. Later the series adopted a broader name, “CONVERSATIONS,” and continued with experts speaking on a variety of topics including “Voices of Muslim Women”, a talk between activist Robina Niaz and artist member Aphodite Navab. In 2010, the series continued with “What’s Old is New Again: The legacy of the feminist art movement of the 70’s,” with Harriet Lyons and artists Damali Abrams, Orly Cogan, Donna Dodson, and Chris Twomey, as well as a discussion around Hester Eisenstein’s book, “Feminism Seduced; How Global Elites Use Women’s Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World” with artists Karen Frostig and Suzanne Stroebe, and in 2013, with “Louise Nevelson: Empress Of Environmental Sculpture” with author, art historian and psychoanalyst Laurie Wilson, and artists Gisela Insuaste and Julie Schenkleberg.
Since 1994, through donations from Marsh and McClennan, Adeline Hazard Perkins and other private and Fiduciary Trust donations, SOHO20 funded 15 fellowships providing deserving women artists with full member benefits for 2 years without the financial obligation usually associated with membership. A memorial exhibition of works by long time member Ellen Hoffman was hosted at the end of 2009, and at the same time SOHO20 renamed the fellowship program, the “Ellen Hoffman Fellowship Fund” in Ms. Hoffman’s memory.
“Savoir-Faire” began in 2009 as a platform for women performance artists to realize never before seen projects. Now in its fifth year, this invitational program created and curated by gallery director Jenn Dierdorf, offers a place for each artist to develop and present their work to a live audience. Through “Savoir-Faire,” SOHO20 draws out the playful, experimental, and powerfully delicious aspects of artistic inquiry to reassess and redefine our perceptions about art, life, and the roles of women in each.
Implemented around the same time was the Artist Studio Residency Program providing selected artists with a studio for 3 months and participation in Open Studio events. Artists in Residence have included Naoko Ito, Amanda Buonocore, Krista Peters, Allyson Ross, Ginny Huo, GO! PUSH POPS (Katie Cercone and Elisa Garcia de la Huerta), Lisette Morel, Anne Percoro, and in 2013, So Yeon Park, Caitlin Baucom and Golnar Adili. Other outreach programs include “SIGHT unSEEN,” an ongoing series of gallery tours through the Chelsea Arts district. Led by guest curators, writers and artists “SIGHT unSEEN,” encourages the examination and discussion of art by women and hopes to share with the public the myriad of provocative, inquisitive, and engaging works by women artists.
In 2012, forty years after the founding of feminist institutions such as Ms. Magazine, Title IX, A.I.R. Gallery, Ceres Gallery and SOHO20, many of the rights won by the second-wave generation of feminists seemed to be slipping away. In response to the incredible increasing tension against providing women with basic healthcare needs and the ensuing media firestorm, SOHO20 served as a venue for outrage. The exhibition was called “Backlash” and it was open to all artists who felt an injustice in the way women in our world are treated. The response to this “unjuried” exhibition was overwhelming; Backlash included the work of men and women, across generations, working in a variety of media to express fear, anger, despair, but also hope, fortitude, and solidarity. The event also featured performances by Go! Push Pops, Words Of Choice, The Baltimore Experimental Dance Collective & Kay Turner's song "Breast Exam" with guitarist extraordinaire Viva DeConcini. To provide an additional forum for conversation surrounding these issues, as well as a means of direct action, SOHO20 also collaborated with Government Free VJJ in hosting “The Snatchel Project,” an afternoon of feminist crafting making vaginas and uteruses to be send to male representatives in congress.
In 2013, SOHO20 presented “Women Redrawing the World Stage.” This exhibition was inspired by an extraordinary collection of events called the “Fertile Crescent Project,” which originated at the Institute of Women and Art at Rutgers University featuring artists Samira Abbassy, Zeina Barakeh, Milcah Bassel, Nezaket Ekici, Dahlia Elsayed, Chitra Ganesh, Mona Hatoum, Farah Ossouli, and Armita Raafat. Accompanying the exhibition, SOHO20 artist Aphrodite Navab moderated a panel discussion “The Iranian Diaspora: Women Redrawing the World Stage” with guest speakers Samira Abbassy, Farah Ossouli, and Armita Raafat. Also, The Feminist Art Project and the College Art Association in conjunction with SOHO20 presented “Place and Performance Art: Women Relocating the World,” chaired and moderated by Dr. Kathleen Wentrack with artists Aphrodite Navab, Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow, and Maria Hupfield.
Throughout the years, the gallery has increased emerging artist memberships; continued quality member exhibits, implemented fellowship memberships, featured numerous shows that address crucial social and political issues, organized group shows featuring women from diverse cultural backgrounds, and hosted panel discussions about significant art topics. In our forty year history more than 250 women artists have had their first New York City solo show at SOHO20 Gallery and more than 1,000 emerging artists have had the opportunity to exhibit in group shows. SOHO20 Gallery has provided not only an opportunity for exhibition, but also informal mentor opportunities for emerging artists to learn from more established artists. SOHO20 is now one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. created to address the under-representation in museums and galleries of work by women. SOHO20 Gallery members have received numerous distinctions, grants and fellowships, and are represented in major museums as well as public and private collections in the US and abroad.
- Ellen Lubell, “SoHo 20,” Womanart 1, no. 1 (Summer 1977): 16.
- Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994).
- "Organization History". Soho20 Chelsea. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
- Grace Glueck, "Art: At the Whitney, Michael Heizer Work," The New York Times, June 28, 1985.