‘We’re Tired of the Sweet Talk’: Prominent Group of Art-World Women Demands a Boycott of Artforum

Written by We Are Not Surprised, the letter demands the removal of Knight Landesman as an owner and the acceptance of Amanda Schmitt's suit.

February 2018 Artforum magazine cover featuring Christina Ramberg's Hand (detail)(1971). © Estate of Christina Ramberg, courtesy of Artforum.
February 2018 Artforum magazine cover featuring Christina Ramberg's Hand (detail)(1971). © Estate of Christina Ramberg, courtesy of Artforum.

After Knight Landesman resigned as co-publisher of Artforum late last year amid extensive sexual misconduct allegations, thousands of women in the art world, including Barbara Kruger, Miranda July, and Cindy Sherman, signed an open letter posted to the website of a new feminist group called We Are Not Surprised.

The letter condemned 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.”

Now, We Are Not Surprised has issued a second letter. It takes aim at what they see as just such a contradiction at Artforum today: new editor-in-chief David Velasco’s pledge to create an “intersectional feminist” agenda at the magazine at the same time that its publishers are attempting to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former employee Amanda Schmitt, who has accused the magazine of defamation and retaliation for speaking out about the harassment she says she endured at the hands of Landesman.

“Three months later, WANS is still not surprised,” the letter begins. “Knight Landesman remains co-owner of Artforum” and in filing its recent motion to dismiss Schmitt’s lawsuit, Artforum‘s lawyer called “the harassment she and other women suffered ‘irrelevant.’ WANS can’t stand for this,” the letter reads.

The group now calls for a boycott of Artforum—from reading the magazine, advertising with it, or working with it—until two conditions are met. The first is that Landesman be removed as an owner of the magazine (the publishers have declined to disclose the percentage of his stake but have told artnet News in the past that it is “small”). “He must not benefit financially in any capacity from Artforum’s new ‘intersectional feminist’ editorial mission,” the group says.

The second demand is that Artforum withdraw its motion to dismiss Schmitt’s lawsuit. “Artforum’s publishers and lawyers must proceed along the same ethical line that its editorial department now espouses: remember, an intersectional feminist ethics is dependent on processes of accountability,” it says. “This is what a community accountability process looks like.”

Some observers have supported the magazine’s attempts to move past the Landesman scandal. Critic Jerry Saltz praised the editorial direction under Velasco. But others, including Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian, have argued that this ignores “the still unresolved story” of Schmitt and her lawsuit.

“We support the recent editorial work of Artforum’s writers and editorial staff; unfortunately, such content appears as little more than a façade of feminist, anti-abuse, and anti-racist rhetoric and posturing so long as Artforum’s publishers and lawyers fight to erase Amanda Schmitt and many, many others’ experiences of misogyny, harassment, and abuse of power. We’re tired of the sweet talk and empty politics,” the letter says.

Representatives for Artforum released a statement reiterating that it does not defend the actions of Landesman, who has been removed from its board of directors, but plans to continue pursuing its motion to dismiss Schmitt’s case. “The magazine must address the specific allegations against it as they stand before the court,” the statement says.

Read the full We Are Not Surprised letter and statement from Artforum below:

Three months later, WANS is still NOT SURPRISED.

Knight Landesman remains co-owner of Artforum, and while new editor-in-chief David Velasco and the editorial staff have been busy crafting “intersectional feminist” content for the magazine, Artforum’s publishers and lawyers filed a motion to dismiss Amanda Schmitt’s lawsuit, calling the harassment she and other women suffered “irrelevant.”

 

WANS can’t stand for this. In October, we wrote, “Many institutions and individuals with power in the art world espouse the rhetoric of feminism and equity in theory, often financially benefiting from these flimsy claims of progressive politics, while preserving oppressive and harmful sexist norms in practice.” This is precisely what Artforum has done, and Landesman profits directly from it.

 

And so we, the gallerists, artists, curators, writers, and art workers of WANS, call on signatories of our original letter to not read, work with, or advertise in Artforum or its affiliates until the following steps are taken:

  1. Knight Landesman must be fully removed from co-ownership of the magazine. He must not benefit financially in any capacity from Artforum’s new “intersectional feminist” editorial mission.   
  2. Artforum must retract its motion to dismiss Amanda Schmitt’s lawsuit, as well as its request to strike all allegations of Landesman’s harassment from the case. Artforum’s publishers and lawyers must proceed along the same ethical line that its editorial department now espouses: remember, an intersectional feminist ethics is dependent on processes of accountability. Artforum, we want to be your readers, your supporters, your community. This is what a community accountability process looks like.

 

WANS signatories and supporters: as a show of your participation in this boycott, post this statement on your website or social media profile. Make it known to Artforum’s publishers: your money, your labor, and your art will not line the pockets of an abuser.

We support the recent editorial work of Artforum’s writers and editorial staff; unfortunately, such content appears as little more than a façade of feminist, anti-abuse, and anti-racist rhetoric and posturing so long as Artforum’s publishers and lawyers fight to erase Amanda Schmitt and many, many others’ experiences of misogyny, harassment, and abuse of power. We’re tired of the sweet talk and empty politics. Show us that you mean what you say in print. Until then, we won’t be having any of it.   

WANS

UPDATE: On Friday, Artforum posted the following statement on its website:

Artforum wishes to respond to recent assertions in the media. The magazine is in no way joined to Knight Landesman’s defense, nor is it pursuing the dismissal of Amanda Schmitt’s claims against him. Artforum stands in opposition to Mr. Landesman’s behavior, and nothing the magazine has submitted to the court defends his actions. Artforum’s attorney is submitting arguments to dismiss the case against the magazine, and not the case against Mr. Landesman. The magazine must address the specific allegations against it as they stand before the court.

Since the termination of Mr. Landesman’s employment at Artforum on October 25, 2017, he has been removed from the Board of Directors. He has received no remuneration as a consequence of his shareholdings, and retains no voting rights or influence over the company. Regrettably, there are no legal means by which Artforum can simply divest him of his shares, though the company is actively engaged in the process of recovering them.


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