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PRINT March 2004

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Jens Hoffmann

Straw-polling gallery-goers admittedly isn’t the most objective method of gauging opinions on a given art-world topic. That noted, the question “When did you last see a really barnstorming exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts?” had a late-January sample of London’s art crowd collectively head-scratching. Acknowledging interesting names on the bill (Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij, Mike Nelson, Philippe Parreno, Pierre Huyghe, Aleksandra Mir, et al.), most pollees agreed that presentational flaws and the absence of a unified vision have sailed the ICA’s exhibitions into the doldrums; shows seemed “unloved,” they asserted, and the program “lacking in direction.”

Costa Rican–born, German-raised writer and curator Jens Hoffmann has the tricky job of turning the ship around. Appointed director of exhibitions in January, he takes over from a curatorial team—Matthew Higgs, Cristina Ricupero, Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, and Toby Webster—that codirected exhibitions across 2000–2003. Hoffmann brings with him six years’ experience in independent curating; his projects include “Spectacular: The Art of Action” at the museum kunst palast, Düsseldorf, 2003; “Institution2: Art Institutions: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Working with Contemporary Art” at Kiasma, Helsinki, 2003–2004; and the 6th Caribbean Biennial in Saint Kitts, West Indies (an infamous mock exhibition co-organized with Maurizio Cattelan in 1999).

Hoffmann, who took up his post full-time last month, views his ICA job as a “challenge and a fantastic opportunity” and, more specifically, promises “to formulate and nurture a wider diversification of curatorial models.” His concrete plans include Artistcentric, an exhibition series for which artists such as John Bock and Carsten Höller will take over the curatorial reins; Artists’ Favourites, for which individual artists will nominate a favorite work for display in a group-show context; and Curatorial Extension, shows guest-curated by luminaries from non–fine art fields. The forthcoming exhibition “Around the World in Eighty Days” will draw together contributions from international artists and proposes a “captivating” approach to the issues and problems of globalization. Hoffmann will also tap homegrown London and UK talent, a gesture that would go down well with the straw-pollees: One noted that the ICA must have “a London face.” Hoffmann’s prospective program exudes energy in spades; it also practically redefines the term “labor intensive.” Which leads to yet another unscientific opinion: It’s support from the ICA’s upper echelons that will ultimately decide the destiny of the good ship Hoffmann.

Rachel Withers is a London-based critic who reviews regularly for Artforum.