Photo: Robert Adler, courtesy New York Jewish Museum.
News last week that Jens Hoffmann had departed as co-director of FRONT: Triennial, the impending major art exhibition in Cleveland that debuts next year, sent minor shockwaves through the art community. FRONT, after all, is a major undertaking in a crowded landscape, had only recently released its first confirmed projects and participants, and is set to open in July of 2018.
"We've made a change in the artistic leadership of FRONT," said Fred Bidwell, one of the founders and organizers, in a vague statement to the Plain Dealer
about the reasons for Hoffmann's departure. "I really don't have a comment on the background of this other than to say that Michelle Grabner has been involved in the project from the very beginning. She's brilliant, beloved and doing a great job, so we'll have no pause or blip in the leadership of the project, or our plans."
Hoffmann, for his part, told Artnet News
that the split was over creative differences: "I have decided to withdraw from FRONT to focus on my other projects, such as the 2nd Honolulu Biennial in 2019, my role as chief curator at MOCA Detroit, my work for the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco, and a number of other exhibitions taking place over the next years.
"Putting together an exhibition like FRONT, which has so many different museums, off-site venues, and local curators and administrators taking part in the larger curatorial process, all of which need their voices to be heard, is not an easy undertaking.
"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. I am very glad to know that Michelle Grabner, who has been a wonderful and inspiring co-artistic director, will carry FRONT over the finish line."
It turns out that might not be the whole story. News broke this week that Hoffmann, a celebrated arts figure who also serves as artistic director of the Honolulu Biennial, senior advisor for KADIST Art Foundation in San Francisco, and who recently took on a new role at MOCA Detroit, was suspended from his position at the Jewish Museum in New York after 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 told Artnet News in a statement
. “In light of this information, we have suspended all current projects with him while we review the allegations.”
Hoffman's attorney told Artnet News he “flatly denies having sexually harassed anyone ever at the museum. He has no basis for commenting because he’s never been confronted with the allegations.” Hoffmann additionally told the outlet his contract had simply ended on Nov. 30.
As for FRONT, Bidwell told the PD that while this is a minor issue, it's just that — minor.
"I would expect there will be some changes in the lineup of the artists' list, but it will be relatively minor," Bidwell said, noting full confidence in co-director Michelle Grabner. "The scope of the project, the ambition of the project are undiminished. I'm very confident, excited and optimistic about where we're going."