L.I.C. studio highlights women’s art

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The undervalued status of women in the male-dominated art world can sometimes be gleaned straight from a price tag.

Astoria resident Melissa Wolf encountered evidence of that last year, when she attended an auction where significant works by women artists were sold for $80,000 or $200,000 — while a man’s 9-by-12-foot drawing of Superman went for $1.5 million.

“There’s a big divide,” said Wolf, a painter who has lived in Astoria for six years. “There’s some work to be done.”

The work has already begun for Wolf, the founder and executive director of Women’s Studio Center, a non-profit arts organization that held an open house for its new fine arts studio on the second floor of the Wills Art Deco Building in Long Island City last weekend.

Unwilling to sit by idly as women artists fail to reap the recognition or the profits enjoyed by their male counterparts, Wolf began her quest to bridge that divide when the Manhattan studio where she had painted for 15 years went out of business in 1998.

“I saw that women were underserved in the art world and I wanted to do something to change it,” she said. “This idea for Women’s Studio Center came into my head almost immediately, and it wouldn’t go away.”

The result three years later is a small studio in an industrial building where women artists can come together, sharing ideas and resources in a supportive creative community where their contributions are valued.

“We didn’t really have a place where we could share our work, and Melissa’s idea was a fabulous one because now we do have a place,” said Anne Babson, a poet who chairs the studio’s writers committee.

As escalating rents have pushed many artists out of Manhattan, Long Island City has evolved into a major community of artists and art exhibition.

The Wills Art Deco Building, which sits a few blocks south of the Queensboro Bridge at 43-01 21st St., already houses the studios of about 40 other artists.

Now home to such institutions as the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center and the Socrates Sculpture Park, the neighborhood has even attracted the Museum of Modern Art, which will open an exhibition center and storage site off Queens Boulevard next year.

Women’s Studio Center received critical help finding a location and getting off the ground from the Long Island City Business Development Corporation, which Babson said is one of the few such organizations in the city “that has courted artists.”

“Artists add value to any community,” she said.

Although the center is designed to provide working space for visual artists — with two private studios as well as a general studio area — it unites women who pursue all areas of art, especially those who work in more than one medium.

“This is a place that it’s perfectly acceptable to be a painter and a poet, or a musician and a dancer,” Babson said. “We’ve had wonderful places for each of the arts in Queens, but we have not had a place where people could come and fit more than one category or defy all categories.”

For many of the participating artists, the support has supplied a new energy to their work.

“Since I’ve joined, I’ve been writing a lot more,” said Christine Hamm, a writer who read some of her poetry at a studio event Sunday. “It’s been inspiring.”

Hamm is also a painter, and one of her works was hanging on the wall for the studio’s open house art exhibition. The monochromatic painting, done in shades of red, was part of a series based on the “before” photographs of young women whose makeovers were featured in teen magazines.

“They look a lot more like people” in the first photograph, she said. “I was interested in capturing the before moment, before they become like everyone else.”

For more information about Women’s Studio Center, call 361-5649.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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