New director at Contemporary Museum

November 19, 2005|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

A West Coast curator described as an "introverted extrovert" and who organized two California biennial shows and a traveling exhibition of women photographers and video artists has been named executive director of the Contemporary Museum, officials said yesterday.

Irene Hoffman, a curator of contemporary art at the Orange County Museum of Art, will replace Thom Collins, who resigned last summer after 20 months at the Baltimore institution to become director of the art museum at Purchase College in Purchase, N.Y.

Museum officials praised Hoffman as a great communicator with a scholar's depth of understanding who could attract new audiences and raise the museum's public profile.

"Irene is a dynamic, highly regarded museum professional who understands how to engage the community and ignite a meaningful dialogue on contemporary art," said museum board Chairman Thomas F. O'Neil III in a statement issued yesterday.

Hoffman inherits an institution that is considerably stronger today than it was two years ago, before Collins launched a revival of an institution mired in artistic and financial doldrums.

Collins scheduled imaginative exhibitions, developed an artist residency program and organized membership campaigns that doubled the museum's members from 250 to more than 500.

He also helped restore the museum's financial standing. During his tenure, the Contemporary's annual budget rose to $650,000 from $250,000.

Hoffman says she plans to continue the course set by Collins.

"I want to build on the tradition of innovative and exciting exhibitions that engage the community, and for which the museum is most known," she said yesterday.

At the Orange County Museum, Hoffman organized the 2002 and 2004 California Biennials and a touring exhibition, Girls Night Out, which showcased a new generation of women photographers and video artists. The exhibition is on view at the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis.

Hoffman also commissioned artists to create works that comment on social issues and their impact on communities.

In 2002, for example, she commissioned Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrc to erect a dilapidated shack in the middle of an upscale Southern California suburban neighborhood to point out the issue of housing inequality.

"We sense a rare mixture of introversion and extroversion in her," said Ray Allen, the chairman of the museum's search committee. "She is vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic, and at the same time she's an intellectual, someone who thinks deeply about what is going on in the culture."

Hoffman, a native New Yorker who grew up in California, has been curator of contemporary art at the Orange County Museum of Art since 2001. Before that, she was curator of exhibitions at Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

She also has worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, among others, and has authored numerous exhibition catalogs and critical reviews.

She holds a 1991 bachelor of arts degree in art history from Washington University in St. Louis and a 1993 master's degree in modern art history, theory and criticism from the School of the Art Institute.

The Contemporary, founded by Baltimorean George Ciscle in 1989, had no permanent home for the first decade of its existence, when it presented temporary exhibitions in alternative spaces such as an empty downtown storefront and an abandoned bus garage.

In 1999, the museum moved into a renovated space at 100 W. Centre St. and began regular exhibitions of contemporary art by nationally and internationally recognized artists.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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