Tuesday night, March 6, alternative art space Exit Art celebrated its 30-year anniversary, and its closing, with a benefit to raise money for its final exhibition, “Every Exit is an Entrance: 30 Years of Exit Art,” which opens on March 23. The benefit also served as a celebration of the life and work of Jeannette Ingberman who co-founded Exit Art in 1982 with her life partner Papo Colo. Ms. Ingberman passed away in August.
The date of the event was auspicious. On the same night, in 1982, Exit Art had a closing night party for its first exhibition, “Illegal America,” which exhibited work by artists including Vito Acconci, Gordon Matta-Clark and Abbie Hoffman.
“A retrospective must be an introspective,” said artistic director Papa Colo. He was wearing a long black coat with a priest’s collar and combat boots. He nodded and squinted his eyes as if in serious thought. “My version will be different. It’s a different version of love, and the one you love has a right of their own version. Maybe you can put thirty years in a sentence.” Then he looked back and smiled broadly. “If you are a good poet, you can put a whole life in a sentence,” he said and walked off.
The center of the large lofty Hell’s Kitchen gallery was filled with tables colored in bright cloths reserved for the Gunds, Tryps, and Dorns. There were large plentiful bars and tables to the left and right of canapés adorned with outsize flower arrangements of surreal faux blooms. By the stage at the back of the room was a large broken-down wedding cake by Will Cotton.
We grabbed a Ciroq on the Beach, a special cocktail, and surveyed the goods in the live auction including a Lichtenstein (valued at $20,000), a work by Julie Mehretu, an abstract work of drawn scrawls and colored tape (valued at $25,000, it sold for $35,000), and a purple silkscreen work by the Bruce High Quality Foundation (valued at $12,000).
“That’s a hot piece,” said a man, as Gallerist leaned in to get a closer look at a small bronze sculpture by Tom Otterness. It was a woman in a hat seemingly sprouting from some leaves. “Generic Otterness, but with Jeanette’s cap,” he said referring to the late co-founder of Exit Art. “It’s a portrait.” We looked closer, and indeed, the piece was titled For Jeannette (2012).
The silent auction in works by a variety of artists including drawings by Robert Wilson, a pair of photographs by Cindy Sherman, and a single-channel video of a woman doing a Jane Fonda workout—sped up. The Cindy Sherman, which was valued at $5,000 already had three bids.
“Jeanette was the heart of the place,” said Audrey Christensen, the associate director of Exit Art. “Her and Colo’s ideas and their process were at the heart of all the shows that Exit Art did over the years. So not having that dialogue, it changed. Papa Colo decided it was time to end the project. So we’re trying to end it in a nice way.” A woman dressed up as Barbara Bush in a blue dress and pearls stood by the table of canapes and snacked on a Kobe beef slider as Mr. Colo made the rounds.
“I was in conversation with Papa Colo and Jeanette when she was in the hospital,” said senior curator Rachel Gugelberger, who curated the retrospective. “And I was brought in to help. Of course, we expected [Ms. Ingberman] to make a full recovery. She took a turn for the worse.”
While the 30-year retrospective had been in the works at that time, what they hadn’t been planning for was the closing of Exit Art. “Then my role adapted to being responsible for the retrospective exhibition under very unusual circumstances,” said Ms. Gugelberger. Papa Colo returned. “It’s a fairwell. It’s a love story,” he said motioning around the room. “Very few places have that. Imagine you live with a man twenty-four-seven for thirty-two years.” Asked what he would do now, he said he would continue on with theatrical productions, which he had begun to do at Exit Art.
“I’ll invite you to see theater with six people at my place on Canal Street,” he squinted and then smiled. “Now it’s up to me. We’ll have to see how good I am.”