Career Advice, Then Talk of Sex: More Women Detail Allegations Against Former Artforum Publisher Knight Landesman

The allegations all come from young women in the art world and follow a similar pattern.

Knight Landesman in New York City. (Photo by ZACH HYMAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Knight Landesman in New York City. (Photo by ZACH HYMAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

It didn’t take long for the floodgates to open.

Within an hour of artnet News’s report earlier this week that Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman had been accused of sexual misconduct, women began reaching out with further allegations against the influential art-media figure. Landesman tendered his resignation yesterday, just after a former Artforum employee, Amanda Schmitt, filed a lawsuit against him and the magazine. The suit accuses the co-publisher of harassing her for years and includes accounts of similar behavior from more than a half-dozen other women.

The additional reports came to artnet News from five young women who work in the art industry, most of whom are not mentioned in the lawsuit. They say that Landesman used his privileged position as the publisher of a major international art magazine to offer career opportunities or advice—so long as they tolerated unwanted touching and sexual advances, paid him compliments, and shared intimate details about their sex lives.

These encounters with artists, curators, gallerists, and writers often followed a similar pattern: Landesman would schedule breakfast or tea meetings to discuss professional matters—specifying last-minute that they would take place at his home, private office, or hotel—then veer the conversation from work topics to personal ones, make excuses to touch them, and follow up afterward with friendly emails.

“It wasn’t until I read the recently published accounts of young women being invited to breakfast with Harvey Weinstein and ending up in his hotel room that I realized Knight had harassed me,” says the curator Zoe Larkins, one of the women who reached out following the artnet News report. “I knew his behavior was inappropriate, but I assumed, because his reputation for such behavior was so well known and, it seemed, accepted, that it wasn’t more than that.”

In an email to artnet News ahead of our initial report, Landesman acknowledged that he has “tested certain boundaries.” But he maintained that “I have never willfully or intentionally harmed anyone. However, I am fully engaged in seeking help to insure that my behavior with both friends and colleagues is above reproach in the future.” He did not respond to additional requests for comment from artnet News on the new allegations detailed here.

Artforum had ordered Landesman to seek therapy after Schmitt lodged a sexual harassment complaint against him in 2016. But after interviewing staff in recent days, the magazine’s other co-publishers, Tony Korner, Charles Guarino, and Danielle McConnell, concluded that “this behavior undermines the feminist ideals we have long strived to stand for” and that Landesman had “engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment.” In a statement announcing Landesman’s resignation, they also announced plans to create a women’s task force at the magazine.

A Chance Encounter

Larkins, who is not among the women named in the lawsuit, was a 23-year-old intern at the public art nonprofit Creative Time when she first met Landesman in the fall of 2010. She was reading on the train when an eccentrically dressed man in colorful running attire interrupted her to ask about her book, she said. She didn’t know who he was until he introduced himself as a publisher of Artforum.

“He told me he thought I could write for the magazine,” she told artnet News in an email. “We got off at the same stop, and as we reached street level he linked arms with me and asked if I’d walk him to the park, where he was going for a run. I was early for my appointment, so I agreed.”

Afterward, they exchanged a few emails and eventually decided to meet again to discuss her writing, she said. She offered to come to the Artforum office; he suggested breakfast, but didn’t disclose a location. On the morning of the meeting, he asked her to come to his apartment. When she arrived, she realized his wife and children were out of town.

“As he prepared breakfast, he maneuvered around the kitchen touching me unnecessarily,” she said. He began asking her questions about her sex life. “Later, he kissed the back of my neck and my back.”

She left feeling confused, but also “thrilled” because he’d given her advice on how to pitch reviews to Artforum. He also promised to put her in touch with the editor of the magazine’s “Critic’s Picks” section, she said.

Larkins went on to write several short reviews for the magazine’s website, each for about $50, and reached out to Landesman again to inquire about writing longer pieces. This time, in February 2012, they met at the magazine’s offices. In the elevator, he asked her if she had a boyfriend and whether she’d kissed anybody lately.

“He’d asked the same questions at breakfast months before, but this time it didn’t feel silly or a just little bit inappropriate. It was humiliating,” she said. When she didn’t respond to his advances, he told her he didn’t have any advice for her about writing and that she would have to talk to someone in the magazine’s editorial department instead. Then he walked her to an editor’s desk.

Larkins had a brief conversation with the editor, who didn’t offer much feedback. Although she didn’t know what the editor was really thinking, she worried that she was taking up the woman’s time. The interaction made Larkins wonder if this was where Landesman “dumped” young writers when they no longer served his purposes. “I felt as though everyone in the room knew why I was there and how I had gotten there,” Larkins said. “I left as quickly as I could.”

In March 2013, about a year after the meeting at Artforum’s office, Landesman wrote her an email, which she shared with artnet News. “I have a sweet memory of our breakfast,” he said.

An Intimate Tattoo

A prominent young artist who asked to remain anonymous recalled a similar but even more bizarre encounter at the Artforum offices in 2014. Landesman brought her to his office and closed the door. She recalled that he asked her, “Do you want a walnut? Let me feed you walnuts.” She extended her palm for a handful but instead he instructed her to close her eyes. “He was serious about feeding me,” she said. “So I closed my eyes, opened my mouth, and convinced myself that, as an artist, I should be okay with these things.”

He told her to show him the work on her website, but soon after she started talking, he interrupted her to ask who she was dating and whether he was an artist too. “Sadly, I was seeing someone who was an artist and, even though it had nothing to do with my work, I felt I had to talk about his art for about 15 minutes. This might have been the most demeaning thing.”

He then asked her to “look into my eyes and say no one has ever understood my art better than you,” she said. “I did what he demanded, without emotion, as a joke. He seemed annoyed by this and asked me why I didn’t believe it. I answered that I had only spoken about my practice for 10 minutes so far and that he really seemed to have no clue. ‘I will understand your work when I give you an orgasm,’ he said. I tried to laugh it off while he continued to talk about making ‘some arrangement’ that would involve ‘hotels’ and that he wanted to make sure ‘I lived off my work.’ I angrily said that I already was living off my work.”

The encounter ended after Landesman asked to draw a “tattoo” on her skin. She agreed, but asked him to do it on her back so it wouldn’t be visible. She turned away from him and he pulled down her pants, “drew a triangle on one of my butt cheeks, and said I had a very nice ass,” she said.

“I tried to laugh everything off. I tried to be ‘cool’ and leave on the best possible terms. It was Artforum after all. But as soon as I reached the elevators I realized how sick I felt and how wrong it had been.” She immediately wrote Landesman saying that what he had done “wasn’t right. He replied to me, ‘Don’t cry over spilt milk.’”

Undisguised Overtures

Another woman, a magazine editor and writer who wished to remain anonymous, complained of blunter harassment. “I met [Landesman] at a gallery opening and he slapped my butt, and then offered to take me home in a cab, which was a mistake of mine to accept,” she said in an email. “He tried to make out with me in the back of the cab.” Later, he invited her for tea, to dinners and brunches, and suggested she write for the magazine. “I was naïve enough to think it was an isolated incident.”

Yet another woman, a gallerist, said that Landesman approached her at her booth at the art fair NADA Miami Beach in 2016. “He said hello to me and placed his hand on my ass,” she said. “I remember feeling very uncomfortable and I think I said, ‘Your hand is out of place,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry sweetie.’”

He invited her to visit him at the Artforum office to discuss her gallery program over tea. She agreed—“let’s not forget he’s the publisher of Artforum, for crying out loud!” she said—but a blizzard came the day of their meeting so she canceled. He repeatedly suggested she come anyway, so she texted a friend who worked at the magazine to see if they were in the office. “No, don’t go,” the friend told her.

One of the women named in Schmitt’s lawsuit, Abigail Toll, met Landesman in 2015 while working as a gallery assistant in Berlin. She told lawyers that she was 25 at the time they exchanged emails in which he asked her about her “dream job,” telling her, “Let’s see if we can make that happen.” When Landesman returned to Berlin the following year, they agreed to meet.

Toll thought the appointed venue was a public tea room, but in fact it was a private garden apartment, she said. Landesman prepared her breakfast in his bedroom, where the bed was still unmade, and asked her questions about her sexual preferences and whether she was currently satisfied sexually. He asked her about “what Abigail likes” in the third person, she recalled, “like a child.” He stood close to her, his thigh touching hers.

Toll said that she found herself answering his questions because, as she later wrote him in an email that she forwarded to artnet News, “I mistook this as a way to level with you and demonstrate that women can discuss sex as confidently as men.”

Landesman wrote her after their encounter: “Abi like [sic] her toast crisp and her eggs runny… A delight to get to know you a little and build a bridge to our small friendship today.” (Toll provided a copy of the email to artnet News.)

Toll responded: “By ‘small’ friendship I hope you mean ‘short’…. Yesterday was not the exchange that I was expecting to have. I anticipated one that was intellectually stimulating and one built on mutual respect. Instead, you asked me incredibly personal questions about my sex life. These were demeaning and unacceptable questions to be asking a very distant professional acquaintance.”

Meeting a Mentor

Another woman, Valerie Werder, said that Landesman approached her at an art industry gala in May 2016, according to an account in Schmitt’s lawsuit. He promised to introduce her to “anyone she wanted in exchange for staying by his side all night,” according to the suit. “Landesman finally introduced her to the person she wanted to meet”—the feminist novelist Chris Kraus—”and after making the introduction grabbed her buttocks and squeezed them the entire time that Werder was speaking to Ms. Kraus, one of her professional idols and the person she most wanted to meet at the event.”

Toll, Werder, an unnamed curator, and five other women all provided accounts of their own experiences to support Schmitt’s lawsuit, but are not named as plaintiffs in the case. The suit argues that Landesman violated New York City’s human rights law, which forbids retaliation against a person because he or she has opposed workplace sexual harassment, and also accused Artforum of not doing enough to stop Landesman’s behavior.

In a statement provided to artnet News before Schmitt’s suit was made public, Artforum called her claim “unfounded.” The publishers said that her accusations seemed “to be an attempt to exploit a relationship that she herself worked hard to create and maintain.” They added that the magazine was “at no time… complicit or culpable” and said that they had used the complaint as an opportunity to strengthen its workplace policies.

In response to an inquiry from artnet News about the new allegations, Artforum sent a statement about Landesman’s resignation and the creation of the all-women task force.

But many have found the magazine’s response disheartening. “I too could be blamed for having ‘worked hard to create and maintain’ a relationship with Knight,” Larkins told artnet News. “I worked to establish what I thought was a professional connection that might lead to writing opportunities or employment. Any ambitious young person in a highly competitive field like ours would do the same.”

Additional reporting by Julia Halperin.

 


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