After 10 years as the Philips director and chief curator at SITE Santa Fe, Irene Hofmann announced Tuesday she is stepping down in January.
SITE’s director of finance and administration, Clara Samayoa, will become interim director.
Hofmann’s departure comes at the end of a tumultuous year amid the coronavirus pandemic for SITE, a contemporary art space that’s been a fixture in Santa Fe since 1995.
Despite Hofman’s departure, multiple closures due to the pandemic, staff layoffs and budget revisions, SITE is poised to reopen Dec. 10.
“I wanted to bring SITE through this COVID moment,” said Hofmann, 51. “There’s never a great time for a transition, but there’s always so much opportunity in transition.”
The pandemic forced SITE to let go 9 percent of staff, including Anne Wrinkle, who served as the director of external affairs for nearly 20 years.
“Because we didn’t have work for some people, we did lose a few positions,” said Hofmann, who had the longest-running directorship in SITE’s 25-year history.
“We went for the tough cuts early on,” she said. “That meant canceling shows and rethinking our structure. We created a budget with a much more conservative look at the coming year, so that SITE could weather whatever comes next.”
SITE was forced to close March 21, just days before the planned opening of DISPLACED: Contemporary Artists Confront the Global Refugee Crisis. The exhibit reopened Sept. 11 but closed again last month when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a two-week shutdown of nonessential businesses.
Hofmann came to SITE after serving as executive director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore.
“My entire career before that job was as a curator of contemporary art,” said Hofmann, who’s held curatorial positions at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, Calif., and the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “Learning the ropes as a director happened in Baltimore, in an institution that has a very similar forward-looking, artist-centered mission as SITE.”
One of Hofmann’s first initiatives at SITE was the development of SPREAD, a SITE-sponsored dinner in which proceeds from ticket sales go toward funding small grants for New Mexico artists. Hofmann announced the first SPREAD dinner in 2011.
Since then, she’s taken the institution’s signature biennial in a new direction. Rebranded as “SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas,” the biennial was a series of interrelated exhibits dedicated to promoting the work of emerging artists.
“Her vision was radical,” said Candice Hopkins, senior curator of the Toronto Biennial of Art, who co-curated the first SITElines exhibition, Unsettled Landscapes, in 2014. “She wanted to situate Santa Fe at the crossroads of the Americas, to create a biennial that traced contemporary practices from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, radically refiguring understandings of art history in the United States. To do this was risky. It took careful planning and good leadership.”
Hofmann invited curators of diverse cultural backgrounds from across the Americas to participate. SITElines served as counterpoint to other biennials, which are often Eurocentric and focused on the vision of a single curator.
“I value SITE’s work so much that I am a member,” said Patsy Phillips, director of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. Hofmann and her staff “frequently work with Indigenous curators and include Indigenous artists in SITE’s exhibitions.”
Under Hofmann, SITE embarked on an ambitious remodel and expansion in 2016, adding a 200-seat auditorium with state-of-the art acoustics, an education lab for students and spaces for community gathering.
Hofmann has no immediate plans for her future.
“I’m leaving it open,” she said. “It’s a little scary. It might be another museum or it might be something else. It’s a moment for me to have some time to really think. But whatever I do next, it’s going to have to be another artist-centered organization.”