Curator Jens Hoffmann has helped oversee biennials in Indianapolis, Istanbul, San Juan, Shanghai, and the tiny West Indies island of Saint Kitts. And though he’s busy co-curating the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art and serving as director of special projects at the Jewish Museum, Hoffmann still gets around quite a bit—making him the perfect guy to hit up for travel tips. Who else in the art world has a bartender at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore who remembers his drink order, and also frequents a Detroit dive that hosts rap battles?
A. BEST BAR
The Old Miami; Detroit, MI
It’s a veterans’ dive bar that was taken over by hipsters, and they do everything from rap battles to punk rock concerts. But they also have quiet nights when you can just relax over a Jack on the rocks. They have no fancy liquor or cocktails. And there’s a steakhouse called Johnny’s Bar on the east side of Cleveland, a one-of-a-kind old-school place. There’s nothing like it in L.A. or New York: stunning Art Deco interior, and very small, maybe ten tables.
B. MOST EXCITING NEW ART SCENE
So many incredible artists! I went for the first time about ten years ago when we did research for the second San Juan Triennial that I co-curated with Adriano Pedrosa and Julieta González. Since then, I have gone back many times and really witnessed the scene there growing, with more galleries and artists-run spaces. The most incredible place is Flora, run by the amazing José Roca.
C. FAVORITE BIENNIAL
I usually look forward to visiting cities that I have never been to and exploring new biennials. I have to confess that my favorite biennial is probably the one in São Paulo—I love going there. I also always enjoy going to Istanbul, and have been to the biennial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few times and loved that, too.
D. MOST SURREAL AIRPORT MOMENT
Stranded in London After 9/11
My partner at the time called from Berlin and said she needed help with an exhibition she was working on, and asked if I could leave New York sooner. So I changed my flight to the 10th, and left on an American Airlines flight to Berlin at 11:00 p.m. with a layover in London. When I got to the airport in London, all the screens were playing news of the attacks on the Twin Towers, and I went to a bar at the airport to get a coffee while waiting for my connection—which was delayed, and ultimately canceled. Then I looked around me, and there were about ten other art world people at the bar as well, all stranded, trying to get back to New York.
E. FAVORITE MUSEUM
If I were allowed only one more museum visit before the end of the world, it would be to…
the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, Italy.
F. BEST PLACES TO SCORE SOUVENIRS
I am an avid collector of things—almost bordering on hoarding. I buy a lot of stuff when I’m on the road: vintage rugs in Istanbul, African artifacts in Angola, ceremonial objects from Indonesia. I always try to look out for rare ceramics, and, as I travel to Japan frequently, I have a collection of ceramics—about 150 pieces by now, most of which are from Japan.
G. MOST MEMORABLE MEAL
Gwangju, South Korea
I’m not sure if it was the tastiest, but it was for sure the most surreal and bizarre. It was a twelve-course seafood meal—but none of the seafood was your standard fare. We got ten different types of jellyfish and related creatures, many of which had to be eaten while still alive.
I do most of my reading on planes so usually I have a big bag full of books as a second carry-on. On my next trip to Hong Kong, I’m packing The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis: On Unconscious Desire and Its Sublimation by Jamieson Webster, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity by Hartmut Rosa, and a book that I take on every trip: The Living Museum: Experiences of an Art Historian and Museum Director by Alexander Dorner.
I love watching movies on the plane that I would otherwise never see–more Hollywood-oriented things. I enjoyed seeing the Taken trilogy on a flight to Sydney once.
Sometimes I do take a sleeping pill when I have meetings right after my arrival
A very low-dose Ambien.