Jens Hoffmann: history, role, physiognomy of the curator

Jens Hoffmann Mesèn (born 1974 in San José, Costa Rica) is a writer and exhibition maker. He has organized exhibitions since 1997 and is currently the Director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco where he also directs the Capp Street Project artist-in-residence program.

Jens Hoffmann has curated more than 30 exhibitions internationally since the late 1990s. His current curatorial projects include “When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes” (opening in fall 2012 at the CCA Wattis Institute and spring 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) and the 9th Shanghai Biennial (opening October 1, 2012, at the new Shanghai Art Museum).

Hoffmann‘s training in theater has as much influence on his curatorial efforts as his experience with art history and curating. Of key importance for all of his exhibitions is the staging of the experience, from the design of the installation to the conceptualization of the catalogue, the related programming, and the “performances” of the artworks themselves. The stage set of the exhibition space, site, or geographical location is itself an important factor in the development of his ideas, which respond to both time and place. Hoffmann takes into account the larger historical and sociopolitical context in which an exhibition is happening as well as the relevant curatorial and art historical relationships.

Hoffmann trained as a theater director and studied stage directingdramaturgy, with Andrea Breth and Manfred Karge and cultural sociology with Wolfgang Engler at the Ernst Busch School for Performing Arts in Berlin. He holds an MA from DasArts: School for Advanced Research in Theater and Dance Studies at the Amsterdam School for the Arts were he studied under the Dutch theater pioneer Ritsaert ten Cate.

A defining characteristic of Hoffmann’s work is his conception of an authorial role for the curator, as well as applying the ideas and strategies of artists (in particular Conceptual art) to his curatorial efforts. His unique approach has resulted in a highly personal exhibition history that reflects a creative development not dissimilar to that of an artist.

He was co-curator (with Adriano Pedrosa) of the 12th Istanbul Biennial. He co-curated the 2nd San Juan Triennial in Puerto Rico in 2009, the 9th Lyon Biennial in 2007, he was guest curator for Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt in 2002 and co-curator of the 1st Berlin Biennial in 1998. With Harrell Fletcher, he developed the People’s Biennial (together with Independent Curators International), of which the first edition was presented in 2010-11 at five U.S. museums. In 1999 Hoffmann organized, together with Maurizio Catellan, the 9th Caribbean Biennial in St, Kitts.

In 2009 he founded the publication The Exhibitionist: A Journal on Exhibition Making, and he has been an editor-at-large for Mousse magazine since 2011. In addition to this Hoffmann is a frequent contributor to Frieze and Artforum.

In 2006 Hoffmann began working with the Kadist Art Foundation, which is based in Paris and San Francisco, and has built their 101 Collection, a collection of artworks from the West Coast of the United States, and El Sur, a collection of artworks by young and emerging Latin American artists. Since 2012 Hoffmann is member of Kadist’s Art Committee.

Hoffmann is an associate professor at the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and has been an adjunct professor at  Accademia delle Belle Arti in Milan since 2004. From 2003 to 2009 he was a lecturer at the MFA in Curating Program at Goldsmiths College University of London. In 2012 Hoffmann was Visiting Professor and Course Leader of the 4th Gwangju Biennial Curatorial Course.

From 1995 to 1997 Hoffmann worked an assistant dramaturg with Tom Stromberg at the Theater Am Turm in Frankfurt. Stromberg and Hoffmann realized the performing arts program for Documenta X “Theater Sketches” in 1997. The following year Hoffmann became co-curator of the 1st Berlin Biennial, which he organized as artistic coordinator with Klaus Biesenbach, Nancy Spector, and Hans Ulrich Obrist. This was followed by two years at the Guggenheim Museum in New York as an assistant curator for contemporary art. From 2003 to 2007 Hoffmann was the director of exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

He worked for Brussels 2000: Cultural Capital of Europe, for which he curated, with Barbara Vanderlinden, the program “Indiscipline,” a large scale series of talks, lectures, and performances exploring interdisciplinary links among science, art, political theory, and architecture though the spoken word. From 2001 to 2002 Hoffmann worked as a guest curator with Mattijs Visser at the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, where he organized “SPECTACULAR: The Art of Action,” a yearlong examination of the relationship between performance art and the museum’s collection, with various stagings and actions taking place throughout the museum.

His most recent books include “The Artist’s Studio” (for the MIT Press series Documents of Contemporary Art and Whitechapel Gallery, 2012), “The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by An Artist” (ed.) (Revolver, 2004), and “Perform” (coauthored with Joan Jonas, Thames & Hudson, 2005). “SHOW TIME,” a history of exhibitions from 1990 to the present, is forthcoming from Thames & Hudson in 2012 and “The Exhibition As A Dramatic Construction” will be published by Sternberg Press in 2013.


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