More Her Side of Things: SOHO20 in 2016

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Founded in the early 1970s by a group of 20 artists hoping to further their own careers and those of female artists in general by sharing their resources and working collectively, SOHO20, a true NYC institution, has by now informed and affected nearly half a century of art history by injecting it with a whole lot of what was once much more direly lacking: her side of the story, or
Herstory.

SOHO20’s decades of exhibitions have featured hundreds of member and guest artists local and international alike, and the organization’s programming has come to include residencies, fellowships, open-calls and various curatorial opportunities. Long a SOHO destination before becoming a Chelsea one, the storied non-profit then moved to Bushwick about a year ago, not long after picking up artist and curator Rachel Steinberg as Gallery Director.

They’ve had quite a lively and successful run of things so far in their new home, so I thought now would be a good time to check in with Rachel to find out what it’s been like to work for such an organization, what SOHO20 has lined up for the rest of the summer, what we might look forward to there in the fall, and what it’s been like to shift the gallery’s administrative center from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

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I know you quite liked working at NURTUREart for a number of years, but I also recall you being basically elated to begin working for SOHO20 last year, which then moved shortly thereafter to the 56 Bogart building—and directly upstairs from your former employer. What were all those transitions like? What’s it like to be Gallery Director for such a storied organization?

NURTUREart was and always will be a very special place to me, but after five years there I was definitely looking for a change, as well as and a more leading role in an organization. At the time I was also working at the Museum of Arts and Design, and one of my co-workers (who is an artist member at SOHO20) approached me to apply for the Gallery Director position. It was difficult for me to transition from an organization that was a hub of endless excitement, but I was excited about trying to activate the potential of this new place, which seemed to be latent at the time.

SOHO20 is run primarily by its artist members—some of whom have been with the gallery for a very long time, and through its many transitions. When I first started at the gallery, we were still in Chelsea, in a third floor gallery on 28th Street. Coming from Brooklyn, I was shocked by the lack of foot traffic and general sense of community/camaraderie from the neighboring spaces in Chelsea. I thought it would be a long and tedious conversation to consider moving to a place like Bushwick, which I knew from experience to be a lively and ever-evolving center of artists and galleries. Luckily, I also arrived at a time when most of the members were open to a new direction. It is really funny to me that we ended up directly upstairs from NURTUREart—I’ve said that it’s the most literal lateral job transition I could have made.

Assuming the role of Gallery Director at SOHO20 has been a very interesting journey. Because of the structure of the organization, it has become a job that expands and morphs depending on what one is willing to put into it. It has been a really wonderful experience working so closely with a mixed, but primarily older generation of artists, who have been through so many different iterations of the art world in New York, and who are still actively participating. It has really brought me to question my own narratives around emerging artists, ageism, feminism, and the vantage point of sustainability for an organization.

What have been some of the advantages to making the move to Bushwick? Do you think it has helped to broaden awareness of SOHO20 to younger artists, or to perhaps reinvigorate it with a different mix of visitors?

The move to Bushwick has made a huge difference for us in terms of outreach to a more diverse range of artists and general exposure, which has certainly felt like a jumpstart. I think our members are elated with the move almost across the board—some have even mentioned how Bushwick reminds them of what SOHO used to feel like. From my perspective from behind the desk, the daily visitors to the Bushwick galleries tend to be more involved in the arts or the art world in some way, and many have been curious about what our gallery is doing here. We have even had a number of visitors who remember going to the very first exhibitions at SOHO20 back when it started in SOHO! I am also happily surprised that so many visitors don’t immediately know that we are an all-women, artist-run space. To me, that feels like we are doing something right, because many people are looking at the content of our artwork and programs first.

Soho 20 easily has one of the deepest, busiest programs among all Bushwick galleries, and it’s not slowing down too much over the summer. What’s going on there in the coming weeks?

For the summer we are putting the exhibitions on hiatus, and turning the gallery into an open-to-the-public residency program. The participating residents will be working on projects that intend to use viewer participation as part of their work. We will be hosting a handful of events in relation to their projects—the first one being July 15 during the last of the Bushwick galleries’ Hot Summer Nights events. Right now, we have artists Alli Miller and Maya Jeffereis taking over the space, and at the end of July, emily north will replace Maya Jeffereis for the rest of the summer. I’m very excited to see how these projects evolve because all of the artists’ practices are so different and unique.

How about this fall, anything you’d like to highlight pertaining to shows or creative opportunities for artists?

We are in the midst of planning a schedule of performances and discussions that will take place throughout the 2016-2017 season, which we hope to announce soon. We are currently accepting applications for new artist members to be a part of our community, and in the winter we will announce some open calls for artists to participate in our future programming.

Generally speaking, in the fall we will get back into our regular exhibition season, with exhibitions by artist members Debbie Rasiel, Lisa Fischetti, Anne Elliott, Eleonora Tammes and Inhye Lee, and projects in the +/- Project Space by Nadja Verena Marcin and Luiza Kurzyna, and a collaborative project by Tal Gilboa and Elizabeth Stehl Kleberg.

You’re also an artist and sometimes have curatorial things going on outside of SOHO20. Anything you’d like to tell us about forthcoming activities along those lines?

I am much more active as a curator and writer these days than as an artist. I recently wrote a short text for an exhibition that will be opening at 315 Gallery on July 16, I’d Rather Be Here Than Almighty, curated by Jack Barrett and Patrick Mohundro. I have a few other curatorial and writing projects simmering, but nothing set in stone yet. For the summer, I am mainly trying to stay on top of all my reading groups!

Does it still cross your mind on occasion that if your desk at SOHO20 were to somehow fall through the floor, you’d almost land right back behind your former desk at NURTUREart? This might also be a great example of something that I find very interesting to ponder, but which might actually be among the most useless thought experiments ever.

It definitely crosses my mind less now because I feel that this new location for SOHO20 has solidified as its own place—but when we first moved in, I was very conscious of it. I would joke around with the NURTUREart crew about setting up a can-and-string telephone system, which, jokes aside, could feasibly work. I was also very aware that all of the other gallerists and artists in the building knew me primarily as a representative of one particular place, and then I had to become the voice of a new space with a different mission and its own deep history.

Let’s close on a different note. Got any favorite ways to spend summer days (days off, that is) in the city?

I don’t really have favorites, but my summer goal is to visit all of the outer-borough museums, which are hands down my favorite, but I don’t often get to visit. Otherwise in the summer I try to be outside as much as possible—you’ll probably find me down in Far Rockaway, hanging around McCarren Pool, or just riding around the city on my bike.

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Link up with SOHO20 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and with Rachel on Twitter and Instagram.

[Image information, top to bottom: Performance documentation: Katya Grokhovsky, Touch It, January 28, 2016. Photo courtesy Debbie Rasiel. / Performance documentation: Gabrielle D’Angelo & Christian Diaz, Around, Around, Pull, Hold, December 3, 2015. Photo courtesy SOHO20. / Documentation during a performance by Kay Turner & Kate Conroy: What a Witch, Part II: LESBEING – Ritual Seeking Evidence, June 17, 2016. Photo courtesy Danielle Vaughan.]

Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

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