“This is my funeral,” Papo Colo, co-founder of Exit Art told me yesterday in the Exit Art cafe. Colo wasn't joking. He was lamenting the impending closure of the non-profit, which, after 30 years of operation, will shut its doors in May. The decision to close the organization was made quickly, after co-founder (and Colo’s wife) Jeanette Ingberman unexpectedly passed away last August.
“[Colo and Jeanette] had talked about it before,” Seth Cohen, the organization's Associate Director told me. “Jeanette had been asked what her plan was [for the non-profit], but there wasn't really a plan. It was such a personal project that we were all deeply committed to and involved in.”
And that showed during my visit. Both of Exit Art's Associate Directors, Audrey Christensen and Seth Cohen have been with the organization for half a decade, working their way up from posts as, respectively, an archivist and an intern. The staff's long-lasting friendship was evident, even while discussing the nitty-gritty administrative details of closing a non-profit.
“Everything archival is going to [New York University's] Fales Library,” Christensen told me. And they have a lot of stuff. Every Exit is an Entrance, the space's current exhibition, consists of hundreds of photographs and press materials from their archives. In addition to Exit Art's physical archives, their website maintains a thorough archive of all their shows, beginning with their first exhibition from way back in 1982, Illegal America.
It would be a shame for that resource to disappear, but Christensen mentioned that “[a]fter May, we're going to actively maintain the website because we're all still working until the end of June. And then, we're working with NYFA to keep the website live for at least another year.”
While Exit Art's archive has found a home, its seven full-time staff members are still searching for future employment. And they don't have much time to spare; when I arrived, Colo and other staff members were clearing out Colo's studio, located in the Exit Art basement, and moving its remaining contents to his SoHo apartment. (Colo still lives in the SoHo apartment where he and Ingbermann started Exit Art in 1982.)
“I think everybody's really tired,” Christensen mentioned, “Everybody wants a little bit of a break this summer.”
Even while dreaming of a summer vacation, the staff remained optimistic throughout the interview. “It's challenging. We've been discussing this with each other and trying to help each other out,” Seth Cohen said, before pouring a coffee.
“We have a really supportive board,” Christensen added, on a more positive note, “[and] I hope people go on to do great things.”
Exit Art's final exhibition, Every Exit is an Entrance, will be on view until May 19th. The final night will involve performances organized by Papa Colo (which he claims will involve a crucifixion). As of June 1, Sean Kelly Gallery will take over Exit Art's lease.