Knight Landesman, the international art-world personality known for his colorful suits and influential stature as the co-publisher of Artforum magazine, was ordered by the publication to seek therapy in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
A former employee, who left the magazine in 2012, filed a complaint with the publication last year, followed by a claim for damages this year, according to a statement from Artforum‘s publishers. The former employee and her attorney both declined to comment on the details of the complaint.
“I fully recognize that I have tested certain boundaries, which I am working hard to correct,” Landesman told artnet News in an email. “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.”
artnet News has spoken to several men and women who have voiced complaints about Landesman, with accusations that include unwanted touching, groping, and other inappropriate behavior, including requests for massages. Landesman wields significant power in the art world as the publisher of a prestigious magazine.
“I met Knight only once before, in 2012 at the Whitney Biennial,” said the artist Alissa McKendrick. “I was introduced to him and within seconds he had his hand on my butt and kept it there for a good 10 seconds. I was too surprised to do anything about it.”
Another artist, who wished to remain anonymous, says that Landesman grabbed and twisted his nipples during several encounters. “Not in a fun way—it really hurt,” he said. “Whenever I’d see him my body would contract in fear so I started avoiding him. The last time it happened, a few years ago, I wrote him an email complaining about it and asking him never to do it again.”
Amid a wave of discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace spurred by coverage of figures in the entertainment industry, such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes, allegations about powerful figures in other fields have surfaced on social media recently. Last week, the artist Liam Neff posted an image on his Instagram Live that read: “Harvey Weinstein, Matt Mondanile… so when are we going live on Knight Landesman?”
Neff told artnet News that he received responses from 15 people, many with stories claiming that Landesman had “grabbed them inappropriately… in the sensitive parts.” He has not himself been a victim but said when it came to women he knew, “I watched it happen repeatedly, habitually.”
For the most part, Artforum is standing by Landesman, calling the ex-employee’s allegations “unfounded.” In a statement on those accusations, the magazine’s three other publishers, Tony Korner, Charles Guarino, and Danielle McConnell, point out that the claimant and Landesman had a close friendship for several years and that the accusations now seem “to be an attempt to exploit a relationship that she herself worked hard to create and maintain.” The statement continued: “For its part, Artforum is proud of its workplace, and will continue to ensure that no transgressions whatsoever will be tolerated by any of our employees, under any circumstances.”
Responding to the magazine’s statement, the claimant’s attorney, Emily Reisbaum, said, “Artforum‘s effort to preemptively smear its victims proves nothing but their complicity.”
The magazine did make some moves to address the allegations. After the 2016 complaint, “[w]e required that Mr. Landesman attend therapy, and took company wide steps to address any workplace transgressions,” the publishers said in their statement. “At no time was Artforum complicit or culpable. In fact, we took her complaint very seriously, and used it as an opportunity to strengthen our policies within the workplace.”
The publishers added: “Artforum is devoted to the freedom of expression and we have no wish to silence anyone, nor will we engage in any attempts to do so.”
One current staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the magazine’s response had struck some employees as inadequate, and that management has been “extremely vague” in addressing the issue. “They omitted basically all details except Knight’s name.”
Landesman has worked at Artforum for more than 35 years. In her 2008 book Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton writes that he “treats advertising sales as if they were performance art.”
It is unclear whether Landesman will be taking a leave of absence. Neither he nor the magazine’s publishers directly addressed the question in an exchange with artnet News. “Knight will be taking as much time as necessary to address his personal issues,” McConnell said in an email.
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