Jewish Museum Suspends Jens Hoffmann, Investigates Sexual Harassment Allegations

More from today’s Briefing: protesting Raghubir Singh; documenta artists defend exhibition (again); Enrico Castellani (1930–2017)

Jens Hoffmann. Courtesy: Jewish Museum, New York; photograph: Robert Adler

Jens Hoffmann. Courtesy: Jewish Museum, New York; photograph: Robert Adler

Jens Hoffmann. Courtesy: Jewish Museum, New York; photograph: Robert Adler

New York’s Jewish Museum has suspended all current projects with curator Jens Hoffmann while it investigates allegations of sexual harassment raised by members of staff at the end of last week. In a statement sent to frieze, the museum said: ‘A number of Jewish Museum staff members came forward on 30 November 2017, with allegations of sexual harassment by Jens Hoffmann during his tenure at the Museum. In light of this information, we have suspended all current projects with him while we review the allegations’. Hoffmann has been director of special exhibitions and public programmes at the museum – he joined in 2012 and served as deputy director until 2016. News of his suspension followed on from his recent and abrupt departure as co-artistic director of the Cleveland triennial Front International. Hoffmann said that the departure was due to differences over artistic direction – Fred Bidwell, CEO of the triennial, told Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer: 'we’ve made  a change in the artistic leadership of Front'. Meanwhile, the Honolulu Biennial which Hoffmann was due to curate for its 2019 edition has terminated its relationship with him. Hoffmann’s lawyer insists that his client has not subjected any staff at the Jewish Museum to sexual harassment. The allegations follow on from a renewed conversation around harassment and power in the art world, sparked by the resignation of Artforum’s longtime co-publisher Knight Landesman after claims of sexual misconduct this October – the celebrated conductor James Levine was suspended by the Met Opera after abuse allegations just this weekend. Read Elvia Wilk on what it will take for the art world to uncouple power from abuse.

Meanwhile artist Jaishri Abichandani has staged a 'feminist participatory public performance' outside New York’s Met Breuer on the occasion of its retrospective of photographer Raghubir Singh, ‘Modernism on the Ganges.' Abichandani claims that she was the victim of sexual abuse by Singh during the 1990s (the photographer died in 1999). On Sunday, protestors held up red banners reading ‘Me Too’ and wore red gags over their mouths.

74 participating artists from this year’s documenta 14 have written a letter in defence of the quinquiennial exhibition (following on from an earlier letter penned in September). The latest letter comes at a time when documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff and artistic director Adam Szymczyk have come under intense scrutiny following revelations around the exhibition’s sizeable deficit and an independent audit report investigating the matter. The open letter states that documenta ‘must stay free from political interference in order to be able to add important voices to contemporary discourses and fulfill its mission of materializing artistic freedom’. Read Ellen Mara De Wachter on how 2017 became the ‘year of the open letter’ but, from Hannah Black to the Not Surprised movement, the changes demanded by today’s letter writers are still a long way from being assured.

And in another open letter, more than 120 artists and scholars are calling for the removal of New York monuments, including Christopher Columbus at Manhattan's Columbus Circle, Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History and J Marion Sims in Central Park, describing them as symbols of white supremacy. The letter suggests that instead of being destroyed, the monuments be placed in ‘dedicated museum spaces or memorial gardens' while the vacant public spaces be used for art commissions. Signatories include Claire Bishop, Hal Foster and Fred Moten. Revisit Marina Warner's 2015 essay on iconoclasm and contesting the story of the past.

Enrico Castellani died on 1 December 2017. The influential postwar artist was the founder of Azimut gallery and its associated journal Azimuth in Milan in 1959, a key platform for new European avant-garde thought, as well as being a pioneer of the ZERO movement. Donald Judd once described him as the ‘father of minimalism’.

The Knight Foundation has announced its annual awards to South-Florida based art projects, sharing USD$2.5 million. Winning projects include a Creative Time Summit conference on art and social change in Miami, and a public conversation series ‘Curator Culture’ at The Bass.

Les Rencontres de Bamako African Biennale of Photography has announced award winners at its 11th edition – the Malian biennial celebrates photography in Africa. Athi-Patra Ruga took the top EUR€5,000 Seydou Keïta Prize.

And finally, the estate of American painter Robert Colescott (19252009) is now represented by Blum & Poe – the gallery will hold a show of work by Colescott in its Los Angeles headquarters in March 2018, which will coincide with ‘Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas’ at the Seattle Art Museum. The gallery called the painter ‘a proud instigator who fearlessly tackled subjects of social and racial inequality, class structure, and the human condition through his uniquely rhythmic and often manic style of figuration’.

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