The work of Calgary, Canada-based textile artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders is on view through May 13th at Harlem’s Claire Oliver Gallery in a show titled “Unearthing Unicorns” that relays the gallery’s commitment to nurturing the careers of women and artists of color.
It’s Saunders’ first international solo exhibit, and it demonstrates how Saunders frames large-scale textile portraits of empowered Black women using the style of Art Nouveau advertising and the motif of Europe’s Renaissance-era unicorns.
The Claire Oliver Gallery, in a four-story brownstone (135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.), presents a regular rotation of works by LGBTIQ, first peoples, and Black and brown artists. Oliver says her gallery has championed underrepresented voices since its founding in Florida some 30 years ago.
In those three decades, the gallery has moved from Florida to Philadelphia, to Manhattan’s Chelsea district, and has now been in Harlem since 2020.
The gallery aims to bring collectors and artists to its exhibition openings in Harlem, and also welcomes neighborhood locals to join in the festivities. “It’s so interesting—the people who come to openings for the first time here,” Oliver said with a smile. “I get the same response every time: that it’s like a family. It feels very warm here.”
People from down the street bring their kids and a group of older women makes it a regular outing to attend every opening.
One reason the gallery wants to promote a welcoming atmosphere is to make more people feel comfortable in the art world. The art market’s buyers and sellers have sustained the canon of European-oriented art, which only values images that perpetuate white images, for far too long. When the art market stays within that loop, collectors and museums miss out on what other artists have to offer.
Oliver said her gallery has worked with underrepresented artists to get their work placed in more art world institutions. Since 2020, the gallery has placed 300 works of art in collections in places like the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Newark Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, LACMA, and Federal Reserve Board.
“I’m a feminist; I’ve always been a feminist,” explained Oliver. “But I’ve been a feminist not in terms of I’m going to yell about it. I just want to fix it.
“Women artists make about 60 cents on the dollar to the men. Today––today––women artists are still making so much less money than men. For me, I want to change that. I want to fix that. I want to be able to get people like Simone Elizabeth Saunders, like Gio Swaby…these people who are making huge strides and changing the way people look at contemporary art. I want to get them what they deserve: their just place in the historical canon and a good financial take. They deserve to be paid.”
The Claire Oliver Gallery is at 2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., New York, NY 10030, Contact them at 212-929-5949 or visit the website: www.claireoliver.com.