Ex-Artforum Publisher Knight Landesman Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Brought by Former Employee Amanda Schmitt

Following in Artforum's footsteps, he denies retaliating against a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Knight Landesman, Courtesy of ©Patrick McMullan, Photo: Jared Siskin/PMC.

Longtime Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman resigned in October after a string of sexual harassment allegations came to light and a former employee, Amanda Schmitt, filed a lawsuit against him and the magazine. On Monday evening, he filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit. Artforum did the same earlier this month.

Two attorneys for Landesman, who remains a co-owner of Artforum, say in the new motion that the sexual harassment allegations made by Schmitt and eight other women in her lawsuit are “irrelevant, scandalous, and unfairly prejudicial.” They aim to shift the focus away from the alleged harassment—for which Schmitt cannot sue because the statute of limitations has run out—and instead narrow the focus to the retaliation and slander claims that are the central components of her legal argument.

“The reality here is that Schmitt did not and could not state an actionable claim of sexual harassment against Landesman,” his lawyers write. A representative for Artforum declined to comment. Landesman’s attorneys did not respond by press time.

Artforum and Landesman took similar approaches in their responses. Artforum claimed that Schmitt’s complaint was “laden with irrelevant allegations about the conduct of a former employee of Artforum, defendant Knight Landesman, including alleged conduct towards eight other individuals concerning events that occurred almost five years ago. None of these alleged events have any relevance to Plaintiff’s claim.”

“To quote thousands of people from the art world who responded to Amanda Schmitt’s lawsuit: We are not surprised,” read statement from Schmitt’s lawyers in response to Landesman’s motion to dismiss. “We expected Artforum and Knight Landesman to try to dodge accountability for their revolting harassment, retaliation, and slander. And that is exactly what both Artforum and Landesman are attempting to do. Artforum made a public commitment to transform the company and its culture to be consistent with the publication’s ‘feminist ideals.’ Instead, Artforum—yet again—stands alongside Landesman, seeking to dismiss the case. We will hold them accountable.”

The central issue in Schmitt’s complaint hinges on a chance meeting that took place this past May at a restaurant in Manhattan. Landesman approached a table where Schmitt was dining with her partner, artist Nicolás Guagnini, and Artforum contributor Alex Kitnick. “Landesman sat down at the table uninvited and, in front of Guagnini and Kitnick, claimed that Schmitt had ‘unfairly accused’ him of sexual harassment,” according to Schmitt’s lawsuit. He “demanded” that Schmitt discuss the matter with him at the table in front of her dining companions.

Landesman’s attorneys argue that this does not constitute legal wrongdoing. He “did not engage in retaliatory conduct; he simply asserted a defense,” they say. These were also merely statements of opinion, not fact, and Schmitt did not suffer any professional consequences as a result, they argue. “Landesman has never publicly challenged or impugned her professional competence.”

Both Artforum and Landesman also contend that Schmitt, who worked as a circulation assistant for the magazine from 2009 to 2012, was not entitled to any special legal protection since she was no longer an employee at the time of the alleged retaliation. She first brought her complaints about Landesman to the magazine’s other co-publishers in 2016.

Although Landesman’s attorneys specifically focus on incidents that occurred after the alleged harassment, questions about Landesman’s sexual conduct have had far-reaching effects in the art world. Artforum‘s former editor-in-chief Michelle Kuo resigned amid the scandal; the magazine’s contributing editors and staff published letters condemning its publishers’ initial response to the allegations, and thousands of art-world women signed an open letter vowing to “be silenced no longer.”

Since the story first broke on artnet News in October, 21 women have come forward with complaints about Landesman’s behavior. Taken together, they reveal a similar pattern in which Landesman allegedly offers career help to young women in the art industry, followed by sexual comments, or unwanted touching. Many of the allegations surfaced after Landesman resigned, and several included below are being published now for the first time. Here is a list of all the allegations made about Landesman to date.

Peregrine Honig, artist

Honig said she met Landesman at a party in Miami in 2014 and he asked her if she liked gin. She told him no, but he handed her a drink anyway and told her, you do now, she recalled. He gave her his business card and told her to call him when she moved to New York and needed a studio, she said. Then, when her back was turned to the wall, “he proceeded to rest his hand on my ass underneath the layers of my dress” and held it there as she tried to maintain conversation with others at the party.

Michaela Slavid, former Artforum intern

Slavid was a 22-year-old intern at Artforum when Landesman began pressuring her to attend events with him, to read private emails from his wife, and to tell him about her personal life, she alleges in Schmitt’s lawsuit. Landesman also gave her “homework” assignments, she says, to come up with intimate questions about his life.

Anonymous former gallery intern

A former gallery intern told artnet News that she met Landesman at a party during an art fair while she was a 22-year-old college sophomore. At one point during the week she claims that Landesman came up to her at the fair and tried to unhook her bra. Afterward, he invited her to a dinner “which was like a who’s who of art and fashion people in my town,” she recalled. He sat next to her, touched her leg under the table, put food on her plate, and gave her instructions about what to eat, she said. He later asked her to send him a monthly report on her sexual encounters, which she says she did. In 2012, she was visiting New York and they arranged to meet at his office, but she slept through the appointment. When they rescheduled, he allegedly told her she needed to be “punished” and pulled out a paddle from his bookshelf. “In the end I consented to letting him spank me over my underwear although he tried to get me to take them off,” she said. “I don’t know why I did it I guess I just thought it was funny but I felt totally ashamed after.” She recalled he later told her she could write “Critics’ Picks” for the magazine but she didn’t follow through “because I felt insecure about accepting that opportunity due to the nature of our weird friendship.”

Zoe Larkins, writer and curator

Larkins was a 23-year-old intern at the public art nonprofit Creative Time when she met Landesman on the subway in 2010, she told artnet News. She says he suggested she write for the magazine and invited her to breakfast, where he went on to touch her, kiss her back and neck, and ask questions about her sex life.

Tiril Hasselknippe, artist

The artist met Landesman while working for the Oslo-based gallery Standard. She felt he wanted to “mentor” her and he invited her to a Christmas party at his home, she told ARTnews. “We’d talk about my art and dating life. He was saying he would introduce me to this and that person. Very fast I felt this is wrong,” she said. She broke off contact, though he later emailed her asking her to “text him immediately after she orgasmed” next, and to tell him whether it had happened alone or with another person.

Anonymous artist

Landesman invited her for tea at his office, then allegedly asked to feed her walnuts and to “look into my eyes and say no one has ever understood my art better than you,” she told artnet News. She claims he asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life and drew a “tattoo” on her butt cheek.

Jordana Zeldin, curator

Zeldin says in Schmitt’s lawsuit that Landesman asked her to give him massages and, when she refused, he humiliated her at an Artforum dinner, calling her “out of it” in front of her peers. She says he later apologized in an email and confessed that he had done it in retaliation for the unfulfilled back rubs.

Abigail Toll, former gallery assistant

Toll met Landesman in Berlin in 2015, when she was 25. She claimed in Schmitt’s lawsuit that he had emailed her asking what her dream job would be and said, “let’s see if we can make that happen.” She accepted a breakfast invitation but was surprised to learn the location was his hotel room. During the meeting, he stood uncomfortably close and asked if she was sexually satisfied. She wrote him an email afterward: “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.”

Anonymous magazine editor and writer

In an email to artnet News, she accused Landesman of slapping her butt at a gallery opening and then attempting to make out with her in a cab afterward. He went on to send her emails, suggesting she write for the magazine and dine with him.

Valerie Werder, writer and art historian

Werder says that Landesman approached her at an art industry gala in 2016 and offered to introduce her to anyone there in exchange “for staying by his side all night,” according to Schmitt’s lawsuit. When she named the feminist novelist Chris Kraus, he introduced her and then “grabbed her buttocks and squeezed them the entire time that Werder was speaking to Ms. Kraus, one of her professional idols.” He later set up a lunch between the two women and, after suggesting that Werder was a “dirty” girl who would enjoy spanking, allegedly wrote her in an email, “A lunch! And after I beat you a little on you[r] ass.”

Elisabeth McAvoy, former Artforum employee

McAvoy, an off-and-on researcher for Artforum between 2010 and 2012, said in Schmitt’s lawsuit that when she was 22, Landesman began sending her harassing emails and text messages. He demanded she grant him meetings and pay him compliments. He also allegedly told her that she should stop sharing a bedroom with her sister so that her sister could “come herself to sleep.”

 

Alice Lancaster, artist

Lancaster told ARTnews that she met Landesman in 2015 and later sent him a link to her website. He responded with an email that she found “incredibly inappropriate,” allegedly saying: “One day when you start painting naked men maybe I’ll pose for you, if you agree to be naked too while you are painting. Fun to meet you.” (The email was reviewed by ARTnews.)

Alissa McKendrick, artist

McKendrick told artnet News that upon meeting Landesman at the 2012 Whitney Biennial, he immediately groped her. “I was introduced to him and within seconds he had his hand on my butt and kept it there for a good 10 seconds,” she said. “I was too surprised to do anything about it.”

Anonymous UK museum curator

Landesman rubbed her leg at a dinner, the curator said in an account in Schmitt’s lawsuit, and began “talking to her about his sexual life with his wife, and asking her about hers.”

Anonymous art dealer

At NADA Miami Beach in 2016, Landesman approached her booth, “said hello to me and placed his hand on my ass,” she told artnet News. She allegedly responded, “Your hand is out of place.”

Anonymous art dealer

After Landesman put his arm on her shoulder in a gallery, the dealer “held a Windex bottle up to his face and told him not to touch me,” she told ARTnews. “I don’t want this.”

Anonymous photographer and film director

In 2011, an artist published a book of her photography which she sent to Landesman for possible coverage in Artforum. He invited her to lunch at a Chipotle near his office, she told artnet News, and on the way back, began asking her detailed questions about she and her husband’s intimate life and speculating about which sexual acts they might enjoy.

Anonymous San Francisco artist

After meeting at Frieze New York in 2016, Landesman invited the artist to an Artforum dinner where he asked her about her career ambitions, she told artnet News in an email. She added him to her email list and he allegedly responded to a blast saying that he’d like to see her work and to let him know if she ever needed any help finding work in New York. They later met one afternoon in Manhattan and he steered the conversation to sex, asking about her boyfriend and telling her about his love life, and ended by saying that “he hoped I would see him as a ‘life-coach’ and ‘someone you’d want by your side.'” He then kissed her on the edge of her lips. “I felt humiliated, said goodbye and left,” she said.

Anonymous artist

A male artist accused Landesman of grabbing and twisting his nipples during several encounters, he told artnet News. He said he eventually emailed Landesman a request to stop.

Anonymous New York art advisor

Landesman invited an art advisor to breakfast at his home in either 2006 or 2007. She was “thrilled to get to know the publisher of Artforum,” she told artnet News, so she endured the questions about her sex life and his touching her arm throughout the encounter. But later, “I felt misled by him,” she said. “My contact with him felt creepy and it was clear to me that he did this with many women.”

Myla DalBesio, artist

Landesman touched her at Artforum events and asked her questions about her sex life, including how she achieved orgasm, according to an account in Schmitt’s lawsuit.

UPDATE: This post was updated on December 19 to include a statement from Amanda Schmitt’s attorneys.


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