Jewish Museum and Others Suspend Curator Jens Hoffmann Following Allegations of Sexual Harrassment

The news comes on the heels of Hoffmann's departure from the FRONT Triennial in Cleveland.

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

The Jewish Museum in New York has suspended all of its ongoing projects with former deputy director Jens Hoffmann following allegations of sexual harassment.

“A number of Jewish Museum staff members came forward on November 30, 2017, with allegations of sexual harassment by Jens Hoffmann during his tenure at the Museum,” a spokesperson for the Jewish Museum said in a statement. “In light of this information, we have suspended all current projects with him while we review the allegations.”

Hoffmann, one of the busiest curators in the contemporary art world, joined the Jewish Museum in 2012. He stepped down as deputy director in August 2016. Since then, he has served as director of special exhibitions and public programs at the museum. At the time, he said the role would allow him to remain involved in the museum’s curatorial activities while stepping back from day-to-day administrative duties.

Early last week, Hoffmann’s staff profile on the Jewish Museum’s website redirected to an empty page. Asked about his employment status at the museum on November 29, a spokesperson told artnet News that he “is pursuing projects at other institutions, but is still involved in a few selected projects with the Jewish Museum. One of which is an exhibition where he is serving as senior adjunct curator.”

In a separate email last week, Hoffmann told artnet News that his contract with the Jewish Museum had ended on November 30, and that he would be focusing on other projects. As of December 1, he said, he had begun a new role at MOCA Detroit as the chief curator-at-large, and he continues to serve as artistic director of the second Honolulu Biennial, and senior advisor for the KADIST Art Foundation in San Francisco.

Reached this morning, the Jewish Museum said the situation had changed. Asked about the correlation between the end of Hoffmann’s contract and the complaints from staff, a spokesperson said: “We cannot say for certain as to why the employees came forward at this time.” She declined to comment further on the nature of the allegations or the review.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit’s director, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, told artnet News: “Our hearts go out to all parties involved.” In the four years Hoffmann has worked for MOCAD, she said, the museum received no complaints. She did not elaborate on whether the museum had made any decisions about its relationship with the curator.

Lance Gotko, Hoffmann’s attorney, told artnet News that his client “flatly denies having sexually harassed anyone ever at the museum.” He said Hoffmann was told on November 30 that several people had come forward with information about his tenure there, but was unable to comment further. “He has no basis for commenting because he’s never been confronted with the allegations,” Gotko said.

The news comes on the heels of another high-profile break with the curator. Last Tuesday, November 29, the FRONT Triennial—a highly anticipated international art exhibition due to debut in Cleveland this summer—announced that the curator would leave his post as co-artistic director, effective immediately. The triennial’s founder, Fred Bidwell, declined to comment on the reason for Hoffmann’s departure.

Hoffmann told artnet News last week: “As the triennial was evolving, I found that I personally could not identify with the directions it was taking but I am confident that FRONT will be a wonderful experience for visitors and the participating artists.” A FRONT representative said the triennial had no comment on the Jewish Museum’s statement.

UPDATE, 8 p.m., December 4: This story has been updated with information from Hoffmann’s lawyer.

UPDATE, December 5: MOCAD’s director, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, said in a statement that Hoffmann had been suspended from his role at the museum. “Effective as of today, Jens is on unpaid leave of absence until this is settled to our satisfaction. We learned of the allegations only yesterday and the board needed time to process and discuss.”

UPDATE, December 6: The Honolulu Biennial sent artnet News the following statement: “Jens Hoffman was appointed Artistic Director for Honolulu Biennial 2019 in September 2017. As of today, December 4, we have terminated his relationship with Honolulu Biennial Foundation and he will no longer be involved in planning the 2019 edition of the Biennial.”

UPDATE, December 6: The Kadist Foundation sent artnet News the following statement: “Considering the New York Jewish Museum’s current investigation of allegations about Jens Hoffmann, and its suspension of projects during this process, KADIST has made a similar decision to suspend all current projects with Hoffmann. Jens has been an important KADIST advisor for the last 10 years, a collaboration that can continue only subject to a fully satisfactory outcome of the investigation, as KADIST holds all employees and collaborators to the highest standards when it comes to sexual misconduct.”

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