‘We Are Not Surprised’: Read the Blistering Open Letter That Art-World Women Wrote About Artforum

The list of signatories is growing by the hour.

Barbara Kruger's Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground) (1989), at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2013. Kruger is among the signatories on the letter condemning art-world sexism and harassment. Photo by Susan Broman via Flickr.

Early this morning, an open letter signed by more than 1,800 women and gender nonconforming people in the art world was posted on a website called Not Surprised. The letter, which was circulated privately in recent days and is now spreading like wildfire on social media, was composed following the resignation of longtime Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman, who has been the subject of numerous sexual harassment allegations.

As of this writing, the letter has been signed by a staggering number of people—and the list is growing. Early signatures include those of artist Jenny Holzer, dealer Barbara Gladstone, and Museum of Modern Art curator Laura Hoptman. See the full list of signatories here.

The website also includes a thorough definition of sexual harassment and translations of the letter into Albanian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Read the text in full below.

We are not surprised.

We are artists, arts administrators, assistants, curators, directors, editors, educators, gallerists, interns, scholars, students, writers, and more—workers of the art world—and we have been groped, undermined, harassed, infantilized, scorned, threatened, and intimidated by those in positions of power who control access to resources and opportunities. We have held our tongues, threatened by power wielded over us and promises of institutional access and career advancement.

We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favors. We are not surprised when gallerists romanticize, minimize, and hide sexually abusive behavior by artists they represent. We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying. We are not surprised when Knight Landesman gropes us in the art fair booth while promising he’ll help us with our career. Abuse of power comes as no surprise.

This open letter stems from a group discussion about sexual harassment within our field, following the recent revelation of Knight Landesman’s sexual misconduct. The conversation has branched out further and internationally. Harder work to advance equity is often expected of and performed by women of color, trans, and gender nonconforming people. Our efficacy relies on taking this intersection very seriously and not excluding other corroborating factors that contribute to bias, exclusion, and abuse. These additional factors include, but are not limited to, gender identity, ability, religion, class, and immigration status. There is an urgent need to share our accounts of widespread sexism, unequal and inappropriate treatment, harassment and sexual misconduct, which we experience regularly, broadly, and acutely.

Many institutions and individuals with power in the art world espouse the rhetoric of feminism and equity in theory, often financially benefitting from these flimsy claims of progressive politics, while preserving oppressive and harmful sexist norms in practice. Those in power ignore, excuse, or commit everyday instances of harassment and degradation, creating an environment of acceptance of and complicity in many more serious, illegal abuses of power.

The resignation of one publisher from one high-profile magazine does not solve the larger, more insidious problem: an art world that upholds inherited power structures at the cost of ethical behavior. Similar abuses occur frequently and on a large scale within this industry. We have been silenced, ostracized, pathologized, dismissed as “overreacting,” and threatened when we have tried to expose sexually and emotionally abusive behavior.

We will be silenced no longer.

We will denounce those who would continue to exploit, silence, and dismiss us. Your actions will no longer be a secret, whispered amongst us for fear of ostracization, professional shunning, and recrimination. Where we see the abuse of power, we resolve to speak out, to demand that institutions and individuals address our concerns seriously, and to bring these incidents to light regardless of the perpetrator’s gender.

We will no longer ignore the condescending remarks, the wayward hands on our bodies, the threats and intimidations thinly veiled as flirtation, or the silence from ambitious colleagues. We will not tolerate being shamed or disbelieved, and we will not tolerate the recrimination that comes with speaking out. We will not join “task forces”to solve a problem that is perpetrated upon us. We provide a definition of sexual harassment, for those who may feel powerless so that they may point to a document that supports a safe work environment for all.

We, the undersigned—those who have experienced abuse and those standing in solidarity with them—call upon art institutions, boards, and peers to consider their role in the perpetuation of different levels of sexual inequity and abuse, and how they plan to handle these issues in the future.

We are too many, now, to be silenced or ignored.
With all we have experienced and witnessed, this letter should come as no surprise.

This letter is dedicated to the memory of feminist art historian Linda Nochlin (1931-2017), whose activism, spirit, and pioneering writings have been an inspiration for our work.


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