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Jeanette Ingberman, 59, avant-garde art gallery owner
Jeanette Ingberman, who championed avant-garde art for decades at a series of New York galleries, died of leukemia Aug. 24 at 59.
Ingberman’s Exit Art gallery, in several incarnations throughout lower Manhattan, has presented the challenging, infuriating and unexpected work of myriad artists, united not by style or medium but by their political and post-modern sensibilities. A 2011 exhibit at Exit Art was titled “Fracking: Art and Activism Against the Drill,” which aimed to “expose this process of gas extraction that is contaminating water supplies worldwide” through videos, photography, commissioned works, public responses and literature.
Ingberman’s work went beyond even what was happening in non-traditional art galleries and spaces. She said in 2007 that “the ideas we were interested in were not happening in the alternative space scene as it was,” so Exit Art was established as “a hybrid interdisciplinary arts organization dedicated to transcultural, multimedia explorations of contemporary art.”
Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, said Ingberman and her husband, artist Papo Colo, “were tireless in their support of unknown artists who dealt with difficult ideas. Much of what they exhibited was hard for me to understand or appreciate.” Kaiser called Ingberman “one of the great thinkers in the arts world.”
Liel Leibovitz, writing in Tablet magazine, offered a “very partial” list of exhibits that he had seen at Exit Art: “a conical tower made of dirty, empty water bottles; a screen that displayed cryptic messages, such as ‘sex is chauvinistic’ … graffiti drawn with lipstick; 21 eggs in a pile, each painted to look like a skull; a woman tied to a column and inviting audience members to whisper secrets in her ear; and a man sweeping a sand-covered floor, daring viewers to kick at his neatly ordered dirt piles so that he may begin sweeping again.”
Leibovitz tied Exit Art’s efforts to stretch-and-bend art’s boundaries and definitions to Ingberman’s education at Brooklyn’s Yeshivah of Flatbush: “Suddenly, all those … installations made perfect sense. They were conceived by a woman … trained to wander down all possible avenues of one particular form, the Talmud … Judaism’s prohibition on idols might have made for a poor aesthetic tradition, (but) its proclivity toward concepts, toward translating grand and ethereal notions into daily practices, made it stellar training for anyone interested in the heady world of idea-driven modern art.”
Artists whose work Exit Art championed who have become widely known include Polish-American video artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, Taiwan-born Tehching Hsieh and Ethiopia-born painter Julie Mehretu, among many others.
Ingberman, a Brooklyn native whose parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland, spoke fluent Yiddish. She earned a degree in art history and studio art from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree in art history from Columbia University. She was in a doctoral program in art history at City University of New York’s Graduate Center.
As a curator, she worked for the International Center of Photography and then the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where she met Colo. In 2008 they began developing an artists’ retreat near the El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, where she will be buried. Read a full biography and catalog of her work here.