Jeanette Ingberman, cofounder and executive director of the nonprofit Exit Art, died yesterday, Aug. 24, of complications from leukemia. She was 59.
She and her husband, Papo Colo, founded Exit Art in 1982 in New York’s SoHo as an alternative space with a political bent. Faced with huge rent increases as SoHo became gentrified, Exit Art moved to its current location in Hell’s Kitchen in 2002, where it has continued to flourish and diversify.
Ingberman was born in Brooklyn, to Holocaust survivors. She attended Brooklyn College, the New York Studio School for Painting and Sculpture, and Columbia University. At Columbia she studied with renowned art historian Meyer Schapiro and receive her MA in art history. She then entered the PhD department at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she studied with powerhouses Linda Nochlin and Rosalind Krauss.
While attending school, she also held jobs at the International Center of Photography, the Brooklyn Museum and the Bronx Museum of Art. She met Colo in 1979 while working on a project for the Bronx Museum. They began presenting projects in 1980 in Colo’s Canal Street studio. Among their earliest efforts were the 1982 exhibitions “Illegal America” and “Dirty Pictures,” both of which addressed censorship and received positive critical attention.
In 1984, Exit Art moved into a rough 5,000-square-foot space on an upper floor at 578 Broadway. There the couple mounted shows of then-emerging artists like Ida Applebroog, Jimmie Durham, Jane Hammond, David Hammons, Edgar Heap of Birds, Nancy Grossman, Tehching Hsieh, Adrian Piper, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Krzysztof Wodiczko, David Wojnarowicz and Martin Wong.
Exit Art moved down the street in 1992, to a 17,000-square-foot space at 548 Broadway, and became Exit Art/The First World. The new designation was intended “as a critique of the perception that multicultural artists are marginalized as ‘third world,'” according to a press release announcing Ingberman’s death. The inaugural exhibition, “Fever,” featured works by socially and politically engaged artists such as Gregory Green, Robert Gober, Rona Pondick, Kiki Smith and Fred Tomaselli, and was selected by Newsweek art critic Peter Plagens as one of the 10 most important shows of the decade.
Ingberman organized over 175 exhibitions, including the memorable “Let the Artist Live” (1994) and “La Tradicíon: Performing Painting” (1997), which had artists camped out in the gallery, going about their daily lives, and the 1995 show “Endurance,” a survey of performance-based work that challenged physical limits.
In 2008, Ingberman and Colo constructed a sustainably built retreat center near the El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico with the goal of bringing together artists, activists, scientists and scholars.