Sixteen years ago, after nine Island related victims perished in the 9/11 attacks, the newly formed Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association (RIVAA) expressed their emotions using art in an empty window of the Rivercross building. Several months later, with the support of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), the organization received permission to use the then empty, former Bigelow Pharmacy space at 527 Main Street for a group exhibit.
By March 2002, the first Vernissage exhibit was on display. The word vernissage, which RIVAA has used ever since, is French and means “to varnish.” Participating artists invited colleagues and friends for a pre-opening party during which they put the final touches on their pieces.
In 2006, as the RIVAA gallery became permanent and their membership grew, they partnered with RIOC on the Fall for Arts Festival, an event that has become an Island hallmark. After so many festivals, large pieces of art piled up in storage.
Tad Sudol, RIVAA president and long-time Island artist, advocated for a permanent home for those works of art and envisioned it as part of a larger Island context. He thought the vast empty space of the Motorgate garage would be the perfect place. Again working closely with RIOC, RIVAA’s Motorgate Gallery opened in 2012. Since then, every year, selected works from the Fall for Arts Festival get a semi-permanent home at Motorgate. “Margie Smith was a strong advocate of this,” said Sudol, “she embraced my idea and pushed it forward in RIOC.”
RIVAA’s most recent group show, Vernissage XVI, which is on display through April 9, includes works from many RIVAA artists – and from one notable non-member. Dorothy Davis, president of the Griff Davis Family collection, and daughter of the late U.S. foreign service officer and photojournalist Griffith J. Davis. She contributed a few inspiring photos from the collection left to her by her late father. The collection brings together pieces of world history, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Haile Selassie, writer Langston Hughes, Nobel laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and many others.
This year’s Motorgate Gallery annual exhibit is scheduled to open March 29 at 6:00 p.m. Featuring the music from the Jazz Salonists band and serving light refreshments and drinks. The opening will bring some new works to the space, extend the life of some Fall for Arts favorites, and allow the works to be exposed to more people.
“The Motorgate gallery is the only parking garage gallery in New York State,” said a proud Sudol.
Sudol's vision is to incorporate art all over Roosevelt Island and make it into an artists' hub; his accomplishments in the past decade are a testimony.
Part of Sudol’s vision is to use the history of the Island, specifically the wheels and parts of the old Tram, to make a permanent installation at the Motorgate Gallery. The goal is to bring together art, history, and our love for this Island. A book Sudol authored detailing the idea and charting out the installation is now on display at the RIVAA Gallery. The idea is under consideration, but RIOC was not immediately available for comment.