Exhibitions Fairs Museums USA

The present and future of the Jewish Museum

The deputy director, Jens Hoffmann, on Jack Goldstein and beyond

Jens Hoffmann with Mel Bochner’s The Joys of Yiddish, 2012. Photo: Christine McMonagle, © Mel Bochner

The Jewish Museum may not be the first place you think of in New York to see contemporary art but the institution is increasingly shaking off its image as a traditional repository of historic items and engaging with the art and culture of our time.

Opening this week is a retrospective devoted to the Canadian-born artist Jack Goldstein (until 29 September), which traces the influence of his paintings, films, installations and sound recordings on the so-called “Pictures Generation” of the 1970s and 1980s, which included Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Laurie Simmons, Barbara Kruger, David Salle and Robert Longo, among others.

Throughout the run of the show, the museum’s new deputy director Jens Hoffmann will oversee a wide-ranging series of talks and events that will help consolidate the institution’s newly expanded identity.

Hoffmann joined the museum last November, but this is the first exhibition where he has been able to stretch his curatorial muscles. “When I came, I started working on the Jack Goldstein show because I’m familiar with the work, I’m familiar with most of the artists that come from his circle, so it was easy for me to put together a programme around him,” Hoffmann says.


Hoffmann, who has worked as a curator for more than 15 years and for a while seemed to have a hand in every international contemporary art biennial, came to the Jewish Museum from San Francisco, where he was director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. In New York he joined Claudia Gould, previously at the helm of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, who took over as director of the Jewish Museum in November 2011.

In a recent profile in the New York Times, Gould described part of Hoffmann’s job as creating “holistic” interdisciplinary programming. “I have a lot of diverse interests,” Hoffmann says, and reveals that in addition to his curating, he is currently involved in the museum’s Jewish Film Festival, which opens next January. “I am, of course, also thinking about the exhibitions at the museum that are perhaps less contemporary-minded and more historical, or perhaps even going in a different direction of more cultural history, which is another area I’m interested in. I think what Claudia meant by ‘holistic’ is really trying to look at all of these different aspects,” he says.

For the Jack Goldstein exhibition, Hoffmann has organised a “cross-generational” programme of talks to show the spread of the artist’s career. This includes a discussion on Goldstein’s historical significance with Douglas Crimp, the curator of the 1977 “Pictures” exhibition that gave a name to that generation of artists; a conversation between the artists R.H. Quaytman and John Baldessari, who taught Goldstein at CalArts—the California Institute of the Arts—in the 1970s; and a day-long symposium in September that will bring together many of the artists Goldstein worked with during the 1970s and 1980s, along with younger artists who have been influenced by him. They include Robert Longo, Morgan Fisher, Matt Mullican, Troy Brauntuch, James Welling, and Kathryn Andrews. “We’re trying to look at Goldstein from various angles. It’s quite extensive, but I think that’s where we want to go with the public programmes,” Hoffmann says.

After the Goldstein exhibition, he says, the museum is organising a retrospective of the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, best known for writing and illustrating Maus, a Holocaust survivor story in graphic novel format. “That again will have a huge range of public programmes we’re beginning to work on right now,” Hoffmann says.

Moving forward

The museum is following that up with an exhibition about Marc Chagall and his time in New York. “It’s really interesting to me to think about how can we make a show about Chagall relevant for a younger audience, or an audience that’s used to contemporary exhibitions,” Hoffmann says. He uses the current installation by the contemporary artist Barbara Bloom, which incorporates historic objects from the collection, as an example of how the museum “would like to move forward with a very particular sensibility in terms of the installation, that in my opinion is very contemporary”.

But Hoffmann says the museum does not intend contemporary art to take over. “Curatorial practice has evolved a lot, and many of these innovations have taken place in the field of contemporary art. My desire here is to see how we can apply certain ideas and concepts of contemporary curating to more historical exhibitions, or how we present our collection in the future.”

To achieve this, the museum is in the middle of a strategic plan, Hoffmann reveals. “It’s a little early to say exactly what we’re going to do, but I know in the foreseeable future we’re going to start thinking about how to use the building in other ways.” This will also affect the temporary exhibition programme and the permanent collection, which Hoffmann will be involved in reinstalling. “I think that we would see the results of all of this in four to five years,” he says.

“Jack Goldstein x 10,000” was organised by the Orange County Museum of Art and guest curator Philipp Kaiser. The Jewish Museum presentation has been organised by Joanna Montoya, the Neubauer Family Foundation assistant curator

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