Following His Termination From the Jewish Museum, Jens Hoffmann Responds to Sexual Harassment Allegations

The star curator says he "never knowingly or purposefully" behaved inappropriately.

Jens Hoffmann. Photo: Robert Adler, courtesy New York Jewish Museum.

The Jewish Museum has terminated its relationship with star curator Jens Hoffmann after a two-week review of the sexual harassment allegations made against him by members of the institution’s staff.

In a statement, the museum said: “The Jewish Museum has completed its review of the allegations regarding Jens Hoffmann and on December 17, 2017, terminated its relationship with him. As this is an internal and confidential matter, we will not be sharing further details.”

The Jewish Museum declined to confirm the number of complaints received or specify whether the review was conducted internally or by outside counsel.

In a statement on Monday evening, Hoffmann said: “Over the years, I have encountered differences of opinion with colleagues in the process of curating at different institutions, which is a normal part of almost any large project in any context. However, I have never knowingly or purposefully behaved in a bullying, intimidating, harassing, or sexually inappropriate manner.” He added that neither he nor his lawyer have been given information about the nature of the allegations or who made them.

Hoffmann, one of the must prominent freelance curators in the art world, was suspended by the museum at the beginning of the month after a number of staff members came forward on November 30 with allegations of sexual harassment. Hoffmann joined the Jewish Museum in 2012. He stepped down as deputy director in August 2016 and thereafter served as director of exhibitions and public programs.

While many freelance curators struggle to secure one assignment after another, Hoffmann’s overlapping and far-flung roles made him a particularly visible figure on the international art circuit.

Following the news of the Jewish Museum’s investigation, several of Hoffmann’s other employers announced they would also suspend the curator while the review was underway. Those employers include the KADIST Art Foundation in San Francisco, where he was senior advisor; the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary of Art, where he co-founded the People’s Biennial; the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, where he was chief curator at large; Fundación Arte in Buenos Aires, where he served as artistic director; and Mousse Magazine, where he served as editor-at-large.

artnet News has reached out to all of these institutions about whether they have made any conclusive decisions about their relationship with Hoffmann in light of the Jewish Museum’s decision. We will update this post as we receive more information.

Some institutions, however, did not wait for the outcome of the investigation to sever ties with Hoffmann. The Honolulu Biennial, which had appointed him artistic director of its 2019 edition, terminated the relationship after news of the Jewish Museum’s investigation surfaced. Meanwhile, three editors of the Exhibitionist, a curatorial journal founded by Hoffmann, resigned just a few days after the news broke.

Hoffmann’s attorney, Lance Gotko, was unable to comment on Monday evening, but previously told artnet News that his client “flatly denies having sexually harassed anyone ever at the museum.”

Read Hoffmann’s statement in full below.

The practice of making exhibitions and working in museums is a collaborative and challenging exercise, one that I am passionate about and committed to. Over the years, I have encountered differences of opinion with colleagues in the process of curating at different institutions, which is a normal part of almost any large project in any context. However, I have never knowingly or purposefully behaved in a bullying, intimidating, harassing, or sexually inappropriate manner.

Still today, almost two weeks after a museum at which I was employed brought to my and the public’s attention that allegations of harassment have been made against me and that an investigation was under way, neither my lawyer nor I have been given any details about the nature of the allegations or who made them. We know that the allegations will not be disclosed, yet damage has been done and there is no other option for either party but to sever the relationship and go our separate ways.

I feel it is urgent at this particular moment to say that if I have ever personally or professionally made anybody uncomfortable or caused offense, I deeply and profusely apologize and regret it profoundly. Let it be clear: harassment, bullying, and intimidation are unacceptable, and I will take extra care in this regard in all my actions going forward.

I have long been committed to the public discourse regarding women’s rights, and have worked with many women artists over the years whose work specifically focuses on feminist subjects and bringing about an end to patriarchy. In particular I would like to mention my twenty-year-long working relationship with Martha Rosler, an iconic radical feminist artist, whose retrospective I was planning to curate in 2018 and with whom I have worked on more than a dozen exhibitions. I continue to stand one hundred percent behind my exhibitions, projects, and texts, as well as my conviction that we must end the systemic harassment and exploitation of women.

Sincerely and in good faith,
Jens Hoffmann

In response to an inquiry from artnet News, Martha Rosler said she would not be working with Jens Hoffmann in the future. She said the Jewish Museum is in the early stages of planning a survey of her work and that further details will be announced this spring.

She also provided the following statement:

I believe that harassment of any kind is unacceptable and deeply unethical. The systemic abuse of power by people in positions of authority represents a betrayal of trust. It occurs in institutions from the lowest to the highest, but crucially, it disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. The reckoning that we as a society have finally set in motion, thanks to the power of the #MeToo movement and women’s forceful testimonies, is long overdue. Although I have never had cause to question Jens Hoffmann’s conduct in my own personal or professional interactions with him throughout the years, I support the Jewish Museum’s decision to take this matter seriously and to safeguard its employees. I stand with anyone who has been affected by abusive or exploitative behavior and am grateful for the courage of those who have come forward to report aggression and harassment. 
UPDATE, December 19: This article has been updated to include a response from the artist Martha Rosler. 
UPDATE, December 20: A representative from Fundación Arte in Buenos Aires says it is conducting its own investigation of the allegations and reiterated that Hoffmann has been suspended from his role as artistic director while the investigation is underway. In a statement, the institution said: “We have been very sorry to read the many reports on the allegations of sexual harassment against Jens Hoffmann. We are not aware of any accusations of such conduct relating to his work with Fundación Arte. Our heartfelt thoughts are with those who have ever experienced any form of abuse.” 

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