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1974 (age 43–44)
San José, Costa Rica
|Alma mater||Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts,
Amsterdam University of the Arts
|Known for||Exhibition making, writing and publishing|
Jens Hoffmann Mesén (born 1974 in San José, Costa Rica) is a writer, editor, educator, and exhibition maker. His work has attempted to expand the definition and context of exhibition making. From 2003 to 2007 Hoffmann was director of exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London. He is the former director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art from 2007 to 2016 and deputy director for exhibitions and programs at The Jewish Museum from 2012 to 2017. Hoffmann has held several teaching positions including California College of the Arts, the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti and Goldsmiths, University of London, as well as others.
- 1 Education and early theater work
- 2 Career
- 3 Curatorial approach
- 4 Teaching
- 5 Selected exhibitions
- 6 Biennials and triennials
- 7 Books and publications
- 8 Awards
- 9 References
Education and early theater work
Hoffmann trained as a theater director, studied stage directing and dramaturgy at the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts in Berlin. He holds an M.A. from DasArts: School for Advanced Research in Theater and Dance Studies at the Amsterdam University of the Arts. His early work was interested in postdramatic theatre, not based on dramatic text.
From 1993 to 1995 Hoffmann worked as an assistant dramaturg under Tom Stromberg at Theater At The Tower (also known as Theater Am Turm or 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).
Hoffmann started his museum career as an intern at the Portikus Kunsthalle Frankfurt in 1995, followed by two years at the Dia Art Foundation in New York from 1995 until 1997. He worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as an assistant curator from 1998 until 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. In addition Hoffmann was director of the Capp Street Project from 2007 to 2012, San Francisco. From 2012 to 2017 he was Deputy Director of the Jewish Museum (Manhattan) in New York. In 2017 he was guest curator at the Fundación Arte in Buenos Aires.
Since 2006, Hoffmann has worked as a curator and senior advisor for the Kadist Art Foundation, for which he formed the Americana Collection, featuring over 300 works by emerging artists from Latin and North America. He also organized Camera of Wonders for Kadist, bringing together photographic works from the Kadist Art Foundation and the Colección Isabel y Agustín Coppel (CIAC), Mexico City, which opened at the Centro de la Imagen (Center of the Image) in Mexico City in November 2015, and traveled to the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Colombia in 2016.
Between 2013 and 2017, Hoffmann was the curator for special programs and a member of the selection committee of the 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 Sembène, 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.
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 the People’s Biennial with artist Harrell Fletcher. The People’s Biennial explores and presents the creative activities of individuals and collectives as expressions of society’s cultural diversity that would otherwise be overlooked, neglected, or even actively repressed.
The first edition was organized in 2010 by Independent Curators International (ICI) and toured to five museums in the United States in 2011–2012: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 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 took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
From 2011 to 2012 Hoffmann and Fletcher operated the one year long People's Gallery in San Francisco's Mission District, presenting solo exhibitions of six artists from the inaugural People's Biennial.
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Between 2013 and 2016 he was senior curator at large, and from 2017-2018, he served as chief curator at large at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). His exhibition, The Past Is Present, opened in September 2013 and looked back at the last 80 years of the city of Detroit with reflection on Diego Rivera’s 27-panel mural, Detroit Industry. 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. Other exhibitions organized by Hoffmann at MOCA Detroit include The People's Biennial 2014 (co-curated with Harrell Fletcher), 2014; Detroit City, ongoing since 2014; United States of Latin America (co-curated with Pablo Leon de la Bara), 2015; 99 Cents, 2017 and Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance, 2017. His final exhibition at MOCA Detroit was a solo exhibition by artist Carlos Bunga titled Doubled Architecture, which opened in February 2018.
Hoffmann was deputy director of the Jewish Museum in New York from 2012 until 2016. From 2016 until 2018, Hoffmann served as the director of exhibitions and public programs.
From 2013 to 2017 Hoffmann organized the recurring public program AM at the JM, an event that invited artists to be in conversation with the curator starting at 8am and taking place at Think Coffee at New York's Union Square every other month. Participating artists have included: Erica Baum, Brian Belott, Dara Birnbaum, Christian Boltanski, Andrea Bowers, Luis Camnitzer, Ian Cheng, Clarie Fontaine, Dani Gal, Ryan Gander, Liam Gillick, Nicolas Guaagnini, Camille Henrot, Allan McCollum, Adam McEwen, Ken Okishi, Adam Pendelton, Alix Perlstein, Walter Price, Lucy Raven, Adrian Villar Rojas, Rachel Rose, Eva Rothschild, Erin Shirreff, Taryn Simon and others.
Sexual harassment controversy
In early December 2017, the Jewish Museum suspended Hoffmann from his position following allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him by multiple staff members. In the wake of that decision, the Honolulu Biennial cut its ties with Hoffmann, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit suspended him from his role as chief curator at large (a position from which he resigned later that month) and the Kadist Art Foundation similarly suspended him from his position as curator and adviser. The 3rd People's Biennial was supposed to take place at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art in 2019, with Hoffmann co-directing; however, the museum suspended its involvement with Hoffmann after the sexual harassment allegations at the Jewish Museum were not resolved.
On December 17, 2017, the Jewish Museum terminated Hoffmann after a review of the allegations. Hoffmann denied "knowingly or purposefully [behaving] in a bullying, intimidating, harassing, or sexually inappropriate manner."
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.
Hoffmann was guest lecturer at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan from 2004 to 2016  and associate professor at the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2006 to 2012. 
Hoffmann organized the 2010 Max Wasserman Forum the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled Parody, Politics, and Performativity, a forum to address critical issues in contemporary art and culture through arts professionals and 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.
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The Jewish Museum (Manhattan), 2012 to 2017
- The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, 2017
- Take Me (I'm Yours) (co-curated with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Kelly Taxter), 2016
- Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist (co-curated with Claudia Nahson), 2016
- Unorthodox (co-curated with Kelly Taxter and Daniel Palmer), 2015
- Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography - Early Soviet Film (co-curated with Susan Goodman), 2015
- Repetition and Difference (co-curated with Susan Braunstein), 2015
- Other Primary Structures, 2014
- Dani Gal: As From Afar, 2014
- Masterpieces and Curiosities, 2013 - 2017
- Sights and Sounds, 2013 - 2016
Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, 2012 to 2018
- Carlos Bunga: Doubled Architecture, 2018
- Sonic Rebellion: Music As Resistance, 2017
- 99 Cents or Less, 2017
- United States of Latin America (co-curated with Pablo Leon de la Barra), 2015
- Double Feature: Ragnar Kjartansson, 2015 and 2016
- Detroit City with solo shows by John Maggie, Jamian Juliano Viliani, Greg Fadell, Jonathan Hernandez, Steve Shaw, Annette Kelm, Matthew Harrison, Adriana Martinez, Dana Awartani, Alivia Zivich, 2014–2017
- People’s Biennial 2 (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 to 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
- Pioneers, 2007
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2003 to 2007
- Tino Sehgal, 2008, 2007, 2006
- Alien Nation, 2007 (traveled to Manchester Art Gallery, 2007; Sainsbury Center For Visual Arts, 2008)
- 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, since 1997
- Textile Abstraction, Casa Riegner, Bogota, 2018
- Animality, Marian Goodman Gallery, London, 2016
- Let there be (more) light, Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco, 2016
- Camera of Wonders: Reprint, Medellín Museum of Modern Art, 2016
- Camera of Wonders, Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City, 2015
- No Such Thing As History: Four Collections and One Artist, Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, Munich, 2014
- 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). In 2016 Hoffmann organized the Project section of ARTBO (International Art Fair Bogota) and co-curated with Piper Marshall the exhibition Mementos: Artists’ Souvenirs, Artifacts, and other Curiosities for Art Brussels in 2017.
Biennials and triennials
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- 2019 – 3rd People's Biennial 2019
- 2016–2017 – FRONT Triennial: Cleveland triennial for contemporary art (co-director with Michelle Grabner)
- 2017 – Performa 17 (guest curator), New York
- 2014– 2nd People’s Biennial (co-curator, with Harrell Fletcher)
- 2012 – 9th Shanghai Biennale (co-curator)
- 2011– 12th Istanbul Biennial (co-curator, with Adriano Pedrosa)
- 2010 – 1st People’s Biennial 2010 (co-curator, with Harrell Fletcher)
- 2009 – 2nd San Juan Triennial, (co-curator), Puerto Rico
- 2007 – 9th Lyon Biennial (guest curator)
- 2003– 1st Prague Biennial (co-curator)
- 1999 – 6th Caribbean Biennial (co-curator, with Maurizio Cattelan), Saint Kitts
- 1998 – 1st Berlin Biennial (assistant curator)
- 1997 – Documenta X (assistant curator), Kassel
Books and publications
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Hoffmann has written and edited over three dozen books and exhibition publications.
Among other publications are:
- A Whirlwind of Writing: Selected Essays, Reviews and Texts, Sternberg Press, 2019
- Futurism: The Art of the Future, Thames & Hudson, 2019
- (Curating) From Z to A, JRP-Ringier, 2017
- Theater of Exhibitions, Sternberg Press, 2015
- (Curating) From A to Z, JRP-Ringier, 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 C (co-author), Phaidon, 2017
- Vitamin P3 (co-author), Phaidon, 2016
- Vitamin P2 (co-author), Phaidon, 2011
- Vitamin 3D (co-author), Phaidon, 2009
- Cream 4 (co-author), Phaidon, 2007
- Vitamin PH (co-author), Phaidon, 2006
Journals and magazines
In 2009 Hoffmann founded The Exhibitionist: A Journal on Exhibition Making, 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.
Despacio - Center for Contemporary Art, Curator in Residence, San José, Costa Rica
Institute Inclusartiz, Curator in Residence, Rio de Janeiro
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Curator in Residence, Dublin
Award of Excellence Honorable Mention, Association of American Museum Curators Foundation: "Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist" co-curated with Claudia Nahson, The Jewish Museum, New York.
Best Publication of the Year, Society of Typographic Arts, Chicago: "The Exhibitionist: The First Six Years" and Judge's Choice Award for best web-site design "the-exhibitionist.com"
Award of Excellence, Association of American Museum Curators Foundation: "Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography Early Soviet Film" co-curated with Susan Goodman, The Jewish Museum, New York
Global Fine Arts Awards: "Other Primary Structures," The Jewish Museum, New York, Best Contemporary and Post War Exhibition (Finalist)
7th Annual AAC Art China Exhibition Award: 9th Shanghai Biennial Best Exhibition of the Year
ACAX, Budapest (research and travel grant)
Japan Foundation, Tokyo (research and travel grant)
Creative New Zealand, Auckland (research and travel grant)
Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement, The Menil Collection, Houston (Finalist)
International Cultural Visits Program Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Tranzit, Prague (research and travel grant)
OCA—Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo (research and travel grant)
Goethe Institute, Munich (research and travel grant)
Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam (research and travel grant)
DCA—Danish Contemporary Art Foundation, Copenhagen (research and travel grant)
Canada Art Council, Ottawa (research and travel grant)
AFAA—Association Française d’Action Artistique, Paris (research and travel grant)
NIFCA—Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, Curator in Residence, Helsinki
IASPIS—International Artists’ Studio Program in Sweden, Curator in Residence, Stockholm
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