by Pauline Miller, Hampshire College F'11
History of Exit Art
Exit Art was a non-profit art center in New York City whose mission was to provide a space for sharing the work of marginalized and under-represented artists, and help introduce those artists into the art world. Through the tireless efforts of co-founders Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo, Exit Art had a long 30-year run as a successful alternative art space. The art world suffered a great loss with Ingberman’s death and the subsequent closing of the space in 2012, however, their legacy lives on through the careers of the many artists they represented, and through these rich print portfolios which were commissioned by Exit Art over a period of many years. Throughout the years it was active (1982-2012), Exit Art gained the respect of the New York art community as an incubator helping a number of artists obtain recognition. The prints included in the Making Their Mark: Artist Prints from the UMCA Exit Art Portfolio Collection, a project made possible by the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) in collaboration with Hampshire College’s Institute for Curatorial Practice (ICP), provide us with inspiring glimpses into the kind of work that was nurtured and created at Exit Art’s experimental laboratory of contemporary art. From an illustration by David Byrne printed on a square of camouflage fabric, to a photographic print from Alfredo Jaar’s “Gramsci Project,” to a bizarre sketch by the artist collective, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, these prints provide a rich example of works by an impressive number of contemporary artists living and working in New York City at the turn of the 1st century.
Because Exit Art was not for profit, it relied on fund raising and donations to stay alive and to properly accommodate the artists it displayed. Through projects such as the Portfolios, Exit Art was able to support itself without acting as a commercial gallery – one of the major challenges for the gallery. Exit Art’s annual print project was founded in 1995, and aimed to foster the practice of contemporary printmaking and to “[match] younger and more established artists.” This marriage of emerging artists such as Rashid Johnson, with recognized artists such as Adam Helms, resulted in a ripe collection of contemporary works, which Exit Art then sold to public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Whitney Museum, and a number of private collectors. These prints ultimately allowed Exit Art to work within a highly commercialized system without becoming a commercial gallery.
Exit Art at UMCA
The University Museum of Contemporary Art has had the fortune to receive a donation of eight Exit Art Portfolios, from which I was invited to make a selection of twenty images to include in the online exhibition. Though the print portfolios were curated and controlled by Colo and Ingberman’s artistic vision, many themes appeared and developed over the years. Colo and Ingberman had a clear vision concerning the issues addressed through the work displayed at Exit Art, and were primarily interested in work that engaged with a discourse about how culture operates as a whole. As artist Jerry Kearns, who was one of the original board members at Exit Art, explains, “it was a particular kind of art that had at its core a notion of talking about, and not really criticizing but analyzing, the larger cultural sphere.” Through the selection of artists as well as the prints themselves, the exhibition aims to showcase the variety of work that was supported by Exit Art as well as the various cultural issues that Exit Art addressed through their careful fostering of marginalized, political, and under-represented artists who worked in accordance with Exit Art’s political vision. These issues include climate change, race relations in the 21st century, and globalization. Many of the artists included in the print portfolios have since become successful and well-known figures in the art world, such as artist David Byrne and sculptor Charles Juhasz-Alverado, but their participation with Exit Art marks an era where contemporary New York artists were still working within a counter-cultural sphere.
Through careful curation of these prints, I, too, hope to illuminate the messages of the artists who worked with Exit Art, and to highlight the variety of works that were created through the Print Portfolio project. Renowned contemporary artists such as Lisa Yuskavage, Fred Wilson, and Diana Al-Hadid are all represented in this exhibition, and their wide range of subject matter and styles exemplify how Exit Art acted as fertile ground for many New York Artists who were just starting to emerge in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
Through this virtual exhibition I have created for the UMCA website, this exhibition aims to highlight the wide array of topics that Exit Art was engaging with, as well as the variety of artists who were being invited to produce work for the portfolios. It also serves as an experimental museum experience, taking the practice of an “alternative art space” to the next level. This virtual environment is new for the UMCA, and also unique for Exit Art’s collection of its portfolios, whose archives are currently unavailable to the general public. It is the experimental and innovative online function of this exhibition that works so well with the Exit Art prints – although Exit Art as a space has closed down, its ideals are being kept alive by exhibitions such as this one.
Pauline Miller, ICP Intern, Summer 2014