As Women of the Art World Join Together to Condemn Sexism, Artforum Promises Change

Amid a harassment scandal, Artforum's new editor David Velasco pledges to "get to work" on a feminist agenda.

Jenny Holzer, Truisms, 1982, installation view, Times Square, New York. Photo: Public Art Fund.

An open letter signed by more than 1,800 women in the art world was posted early Monday morning on a website called Not Surprised in response to the resignation of veteran Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman. For decades a powerful and influential figure in the art field, he has been the subject of numerous sexual harassment allegations and a lawsuit from a former employee.

The letter emerged as part of a discussion group about Landesman’s sexual misconduct, which the text describes as “a longtime open secret in the industry,” and calls on victims to share their stories and name abusers.

The signatories include well-known artists (Barbara Kruger, Tauba Auerbach, Cindy Sherman, Catherine Opie, Cecily Brown, Rachel Harrison, Jenny Holzer, and Julie Mehretu), dealers (Barbara Gladstone, Bridget Donahue, Hannah Hoffman), curators (Alison Gingeras, Eungie Joo, Laura Hoptman), writers (Coco Fusco, Miranda July, Johanna Fateman, Kimberly Drew), and even some Artforum employees (Courtney Yoshimura, Lauren O’Neill-Butler).

“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,” the letter says. It denounces art institutions that “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.”

In a jab aimed directly at Artforum, whose publishers announced the day of Landesman’s resignation that the magazine would create a women’s task force to oversee the improvement of its workplace culture, the letter says: “We will not join ‘task forces’ to solve a problem that is perpetrated upon us.”

Meanwhile, as pressures rise, Artforum is making a push to improve its work environment. Despite the aspersion in the letter, spokespeople for Artforum maintain that the task force is an earnest companywide initiative that will serve every department in the magazine, as well as its sister publication Bookforum.

“This is a group of employees that are working together toward similar goals to set a standard for the best possible workplace environment,” representatives told artnet News on Sunday evening. “They’re really keen to put it together. They want it to be inclusive and holistic. It will be a living, breathing thing.”

The magazine has appeared deeply divided in the wake of the scandal. Editor-in-chief Michelle Kuo announced plans to step down last week, saying that “in light of the troubling allegations surrounding one of our publishers, I could no longer serve as a public representative of Artforum.” More than 50 other staff members posted an open letter on Artforum‘s website condemning their publishers’ initial statement about Landesman, which had called the lawsuit’s allegations “unfounded.”

In the days since, however, the magazine employees have been rapidly coming together, the spokespeople say. “There’s a unified commitment to the magazine,” they said. “The issues this letter address are of paramount importance to the magazine. It is after all a woman-led magazine and has been for years—on the masthead there’s 14 women and six men.”

The night of the staff’s condemnation of the magazine management, co-publisher Tony Korner wrote an email to the employees in response, telling them, “We are extremely grateful for your honest feedback.” He added that they would welcome anonymous comments, in-person meetings, and planned to create “a group of active facilitators who will ensure open and regular communication and a continuous feedback loop. This will be a standing, long-term resource, and one that we believe will be a significant step in strengthening our office environment.” (A copy of Korner’s email was sent to artnet News.)

The magazine has also appointed former web editor David Velasco as its new editor-in-chief. Velasco, who has been in active discussion with the publishers about the task force and other workplace concerns, told artnet News through the magazine’s representatives: “The art world is misogynist. Art history is misogynist. Also racist, classist, transphobic, ableist, homophobic. I will not accept this. I know my colleagues here agree. Intersectional feminism is an ethics near and dear to so many on our staff. Our writers too. This is where we​ stand. There’s so much to be done. Now, we get to work.”


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