Jens Hoffmann Mesèn is a writer and exhibition maker. He currently is Deputy Director of The Jewish Museum in New York, where he oversees exhibitions, collections, and public programs. He has curated more than 50 exhibitions internationally and written more than 200 texts on art and exhibition making.
Hoffmann started his museum career as an intern at the Portikus Kunsthalle Frankfurt (1995), followed by a two-year stint as exhibitions assistant at the Dia Art Foundation, New York (1995-1997). He worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as an assistant curator from 1998 to 2000. From 2001 to 2002 Hoffmann worked as a curator at the Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf. From 2003 to 2007 Hoffmann was the director of exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and from 2007 to 2012 director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco.
Since 2006 Hoffmann has been senior advisor for the Kadist Art Foundation in Paris and San Francisco, for which he has assembled the 101 Collection with artworks by artists from the West Coast of the United States, as well as El Sur, featuring artworks of emerging artists from Latin America. Both collections merged in 2014 to form the Americana collection. He is currently organizing Camera of Wonders, bringing together photographic works from the Kadist Art Foundation and La Colección Isabel y Agustín Coppel (CIAC), Mexico City, opening at the Centro de Image in Mexico City in late 2015. The exhibition will tour in Latin America in 2016 and 2017.
Since 2012 he has been guest curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, where his exhibition The Past Is Present opened in September 2013. In February 2014 he co-curated, with Triple Candie, I Cancel All My Works At Death, the first comprehensive survey of the actions and performances of James Lee Byars. Forthcoming exhibitions organized by Hoffmann at MOCA Detroit include The People's Biennial 2014 (co-curated with Harrell Fletcher), opening in September 2014; Detroit City, opening in September 2014; Latin Labyrinths (co-curated with Pablo Leon de la Bara), opening in fall 2015; and Working Class, opening in early 2016.
Since 2013 Hoffmann has been curator for special programs and a member of the selection committee of New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center, New York. Hoffmann was a guest curator for the 30th Istanbul Film Festival in 2011, for which he organized a series of screenings Untitled (Film), including films by Peter Watkins, William E. Jones, Ousmane Sembene, Tevfik Başer, Derek Jarman, Guy Debord, Konrad Wolf, and others. In 2012, together with Edoardo Bonaspetti, Andrea Lissoni, and Filipa Ramos, Hoffmann developed the ongoing Vdrome.org, an online platform offering screenings of films and videos directed by visual artists and filmmakers.
Based on Jean-Pierre Melville's Association des Cinématographie Indépendants (ACI), Hoffmann founded the Association des Conservateurs Indépendants (ACI) (Association of Independent Curators) in 2008; he is the only member. He was an original member of the Union of the Imaginary (VOTI), the first online network for curators (1998-2000).
In 2007 Hoffmann founded the Museum of Modern Art and Western Antiquities, for which he has curated two exhibitions: Section IV, Department of Light Recordings: Lens Drawings, Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris (2013), and Section III, Department of Pigments on Surface: Very Abstract and Hyper Figurative, Thomas Dane Gallery, London (2007). The next exhibition for the Museum of Modern Art and Western Antiquities will be Section II, Department of Carving and Modeling (2019).
In 2009 he founded, with Harrell Fletcher, the People’s Biennial. The first edition was organized in 2010 by Independent Curators International (ICI) and toured to five museums in the United States in 2011-12: ICA, Portland, Oregon; Dahl Art Center, Rapid City, South Dakota; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona; and Cantor Fitzgerald Galleries, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania. The People’s Biennial 2014 is currently taking place at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
The Jewish Museum, New York, 2012 -
Other Primary Structures, 2014
Dani Gal: As From Afar, 2014
Masterpieces and Curiosities, 2013 - ongoing
Using Walls, Floors and Ceilings: Claire Fontaine, 2013; Mel Bochner, 2014; Willem De Rooij, 2014; Chantal Joffe, forthcoming in 2015; Valeska Soares, forthcoming in 2015; Beatriz Milhazes, forthcoming in 2016
Sights and Sounds, 2013 - ongoing
Detroit City, 2014-2018
People’s Biennial (co-curated with Harrell Fletcher), 2014
James Lee Byers (co-curated with Triple Candie), 2014
The Past Is Present, 2013
When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes, 2012
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, 2007-2012
Tauba Auerbach, Alexandre da Chuna, Peter Coffin, Ryan Gander, Joao Maria Gusmao & Pedro Paiva, Federico Herrero, Colter Jacobson, Annette Kelm, Tim Lee, Shana Lutker, Daria Martin, Kris Martin, Gareth Moore, Kristin Morgin, Valerie Mrejen, Roman Ondak, Kirsten Pieroth, Dirk Stewen, Jordan Wolfson, Mario Ybarra Jr.
Tino Sehgal (multi-year retrospective) 2007-2012
Americana: 50 States, 50 Months, 50 Exhibitions, 2007–2012
When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes, 2012
Painting Between the Lines, 2011; traveled to Williams College Museum of Art, 2012
More American Photographs, 2011; traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO, 2012; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH, 2013; California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, 2014
Huckleberry Finn, 2010
Moby Dick, 2009
The Wizard of Oz, 2008
Low Life Slow Life Part 1 & 2 (organized with Paul McCarthy), 2008 & 2009
Apocalypse Now (co-curated with Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla), 2007
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2003-2007
Tino Sehgal, 2008, 2007, 2006
Surprise, Surprise, 2006
Around the World in Eighty Days (at ICA and South London Gallery), 2006
Cerith Wyn Evans, 2006
London in Six Easy Steps, 2005
Martha Rosler, 2005
Jonathan Monk, 2005
John Bock, 2004
Artists’ Favorites Act I and Act II, 2004
Other Museum and Gallery Exhibitions, 1997-
Marxism, 303 Gallery, New York, 2012
BLOCKBUSTER: Cinema for Exhibitions, La Colección Isabel y Agustín Coppel (CIAC), Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, 2012
On The Road, ArtPace, San Antonio, 2010
PanAmericana, Galeria Kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2010
Conversation Pieces, Johnen Galerie, Berlin, 2009
This Is Not a Void, Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, 2008
For Sale, Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, Lisbon, 2007
Home of the Free, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, 2006
Me, Myself and I, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2006
Stipendium, Hamburger Kunstverein, 2006
The Studio (co-curated with Christina Kennedy), The Hugh Lane Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2006
WRONG, Klosterfelde Galerie, Berlin, 2006
A Walk to Remember, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 2005
Deutschland sucht (co-curated with Katherine Romberg), Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 2004
The Exhibition as a Work of Art, EAV (Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage), Rio de Janeiro, 2003
Exhibitions of an Exhibition, Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York, 2003
Institution Squared, KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, 2003
The World Question Center (Reloaded), Now What?, BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht, 2003
A show that will show that a show is not only a show, The Project, Los Angeles, 2003
SPECTACULAR: The Art of Action, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, 2001–02
A Little Bit of History Repeated, Kunst Werke, Berlin, 2001
Exhibition Squared, IASPIS, Stockholm, 2001
Indiscipline (co-curated with Barbara Vanderlinden), part of Brussels 2000 Cultural Capital of Europe, organized by Roomade—Office for Contemporary Art, Brussels, 2000
Destination Is Wherever It Arrives, Salon 3, London, 1999
The Show Must Go On, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1999
Tropical Modernity (co-curated with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster), Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona, 1999
Au-Dela, Klosterfelde Galerie, Berlin, 1998
Contemporary Self-Portraits, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, 1997
From 2003 to 2012, Hoffmann worked as a curator for Art Basel, for which he conceived and organized the annual programs Art Perform (2003-2007), Art on Stage (2008 & 2009) and Art Parcours (2010-2012).
People’s Biennial 2014 (co-curator, with Harrell Fletcher)
9th Shanghai Biennale (co-curator), 2012
12th Istanbul Biennial (co-curator, with Adriano Pedrosa), 2011
People’s Biennial 2010 (co-curator, with Harrell Fletcher)
2nd San Juan Triennial, (co-curator), Puerto Rico, 2009
9th Lyon Biennial (guest curator), 2007
1st Prague Biennial (co-curator), 2003
Manifesta 4 (guest curator and participant), Frankfurt, 2002
9th Caribbean Biennial (co-curator, with Maurizio Cattelan), St. Kitts, 1999
1st Berlin Biennial (assistant curator), 1998
Documenta X (assistant curator), Kassel, 1997
Hoffmann's training in theater exerts a great influence on his curatorial efforts. Of key importance in 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 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.
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.
Hoffmann has been closely associated with the work of artists such as Tino Sehgal, Ryan Gander, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Simon Fujiwara, Mario Garcia Torres, Claire Fontaine, Harrell Fletcher, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Annette Kelm, Rivane Neuenschwander, Marepe, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Cerith Wyn Evans, Yinka Shonibare, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Martha Rosler, Kirsten Pieroth, John Bock, Jonathan Monk, Kris Martin, John Baldessari, Luisa Lambri, Roman Ondák, Tim Lee, and Paul McCarthy.
Journals and Magazines
In 2009 Hoffmann founded The Exhibitionist: A Journal on Exhibition Making, distributed by MIT Press, which has advocated the author theory as developed specifically by François Truffaut in his 1954 essay "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" ("A certain tendency in French cinema") and adapted Truffaut's ideas to the sphere of exhibition making.
Hoffmann has been editor-at-large for Mousse magazine since 2011 and is a frequent contributor to Frieze and Artforum. He has written for Parkett, Texte zur Kunst, DOMUS, and Critique d'Arts, and was a columnist for Purple (magazine) from 2001 to 2003 as well as a correspondent for Flash Art from 2002 to 2007.
Books and Publications
Hoffmann has written and edited over three dozen books and exhibition publications.
The Theater of Exhibitions, Sternberg Press, forthcoming, 2014
Curating (From A to Z), JRP-Ringier, forthcoming, 2014
Show Time: The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art, Thames & Hudson, 2014
Ten Fundamental Questions of Curating, Mousse Publishing, 2013
The Studio, MIT Press, Documents of Contemporary Art series, and Whitechapel Gallery, 2012
Perform (co-author, with Joan Jonas), Thames & Hudson, 2005
The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by An Artist (ed.), Revolver, 2004
Vitamin P2 (co-author), Phaidon, 2011
Vitamin 3D (co-author), Phaidon, 2009
Cream 4 (co-author), Phaidon, 2007
Vitamin PH (co-author), Phaidon, 2006
Hoffmann was an adjunct professor at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan (2004-2013) and an associate professor at the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts in San Francisco (2006-2012). In 2012 Hoffmann was visiting professor and course leader of the 4th Gwangju Biennale Curatorial Course.
From 2003 to 2009 he was a senior lecturer at the MFA in Curating Program at Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2001 Hoffmann was adjunct professor at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm.
Hoffmann conceived and organized the 2010 MIT Max Wasserman Forum titled Parody, Politics, and Performativity, which included presentations by artists Tino Sehgal, Tania Bruguera, Joan Jonas, and Claire Fontaine as well as art historians Dorothea von Hantelmann and Frazer Ward.
He has taught seminars at art schools and universities including School of Visual Arts, Braunschweig, Germany (2002); University of the Arts, Berlin (2002); Concordia University, Montreal (2002); Royal Art Academy, Stockholm (2002, 2004); Center for Curatorial Studies/Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY (2003, 2010, 2011); Royal College of Art, London (2004, 2005, 2009); Escola De Artes Visuais Do Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro (2003); Art Center Pasadena, Los Angeles (2004); Art History Department of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków (2005); Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles (2005); California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles (2005); University of Leeds, Leeds (2006); School for Art Theory and Practice, Budapest (2006); Ruskin School of Fine Arts, Oxford University (2008); Roski School of Fine Arts at University of Southern California, Los Angeles (2008); and University of British Columbia, Vancouver (2009).
Education and Early Theater Work
Hoffmann trained as a theater director and studied stage directing and dramaturgy with Andrea Breth and Manfred Karge as well as cultural sociology with Wolfgang Engler at the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic 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, where he studied under the Dutch theater pioneer Ritsaert ten Cate. Hoffmann staged and directed a number of productions at the Berliner Arbeiter-Theater bat (Berlin Workers' Theater), including fragments and adaptations of works by Nikolai Gogol, William Shakespeare, Heiner Müller, and Alexander Ostrovsky. His final production at the bat was Oscar Night, written by Rene Pollesch.
From 1993 to 1995 Hoffmann worked as an assistant dramaturg under Tom Stromberg at the Theater Am Turm (TAT) in Frankfurt, where he worked on productions of such directors as Rene Pollesch, Stefan Pucher, Reza Abdoh, Needcompany, Michael Laub, Jan Fabre, Baktruppen, Gob Squad, and Heiner Goebbels. With Stromberg Hoffmann organized Theater Outlines, the performing-arts program of Documenta X in Kassel (1997).
2013 7th Annual AAC Art China Exhibition Award: 9th Shanghai Biennial Best Exhibition of the Year
2010 ACAX, Budapest; Japan Foundation, Tokyo
2009 Creative New Zealand; Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement (Nomination), The Menil Collection, Houston
2008 International Cultural Visits Program Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
2006 Tranzit, Prague
2005 OCA—Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo
2004 Goethe Institute, Munich
2003 Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam
2002 DCA—Danish Contemporary Art Foundation, Copenhagen; Canada Art Council, Ottawa
2001 AFAA—Assciation Française d’Action Artistique, Paris; NIFCA—Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, Helsinki
2000 IASPIS—International Artists’ Studio Program in Sweden, Stockholm