A string of sexual allegations against one of Artforum‘s longstanding publishers, Knight Landesman, was made public this week, placing pressure on the magazine to review and improve management of its workplace.
The accusations were first reported by Rachel Corbett at artnet News, speaking with a number of men and women who gave accounts of unwanted behavior from Landesman over the years, from touching to his sending of inappropriate emails. Landesman resigned on Wednesday shortly after Amanda Schmitt, a former employee, came forward and filed a lawsuit against both him and Artforum for acts of harassment received over four years, in both private and public settings. According to the New York Times, the lawsuit includes disturbing accounts from other women — unnamed as plaintiffs — from former Artforum employees to individuals Landesman met at art events. The suit also claims that the magazine’s owners were aware of its publisher’s behavior but did not take critical action against it.
In response to these reports, Landesman told artnet that he had “tested certain boundaries” but has “never willfully or intentionally harmed anyone.”
The allegations build on a recent wave of accusations that is only gaining momentum against prominent men across an array of industries, from producer Harvey Weinstein to former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and political journalist Mark Halperin. A follow-up report by Corbett at artnet reveals eerie similarities between Weinstein and Landesman’s tactics: young women gave accounts of the publisher inviting them to a hotel or his home under the guise of business, where he spoke to them or touched them in inappropriate ways that left them feeling confused and humiliated — but also trapped by the reality of his powerful position in the industry.
An initial Artforum statement deemed Schmitt’s complaints of inappropriate behavior as “unfounded.” Penned by Landesman’s fellow co-publishers Tony Korner, Charles Guarino, and Danielle McConnell, the response primarily sought to distance the magazine from the allegations and assert a lack of complicity. It then went down the route of victim-blaming, framing Schmitt’s claims as a “[seeming] attempt to exploit a relationship that she herself worked hard to create and maintain.” The only consequence mentioned by the publishers was that Landesman was asked to seek therapy after Artforum received notice of the complaints in 2016.
Following his resignation on Wednesday, Artforum‘s publishers released another statement saying that they had met with their staff who affirmed that Landesman “engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment.
“We will do everything in our ability to bring our workplace in line with our editorial mission, and we will use this opportunity to transform Artforum into a place of transparency, equity, and with zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any kind,” the statement reads. “Regretfully, this behavior undermines the feminist ideals we have long strived to stand for.” These ideals, however, have not been reflected in the magazine’s covers, as artist Micol Hebron has revealed: in 2015, she found that only 18% of the 526 covers Artforum has produced since 1962 feature art by women.
In the latest turn of events, staff members of Artforum penned a letter condemning their magazine’s response to complaints of sexual harassment against its former publisher Knight Landesman, who resigned earlier this week. The letter, posted on Artforum‘s website this morning, marks a pointed break between its staff and its publishers, who had issued statements essentially supporting Landesman without any input from staff.
Signed by 39 individuals from the editorial and business teams — including its new editor-in-chief, David Velasco — the letter reads, “We, the undersigned staff of Artforum and Bookforum, condemn the way the allegations against Knight Landesman have been handled by our publishers and repudiate the statements that have been issued to represent us so far.
“We are committed to gender justice and to the eradication of sexual harassment in the art community and beyond. We are now gravely aware of the work that needs to be done at our own publication, and call on the publishers to work with us to create radical and lasting change.”
The magazine’s editorial department has already witnessed a change of its own this week. Landesman’s resignation follows that of Michelle Kuo, the magazine’s editor-in-chief of over seven years. Although news of Kuo’s departure broke hours after Landesman stepped down, she had submitted her letter of resignation last Wednesday, October 18. In a statement provided to ARTnews, Kuo cited the allegations against Landesman as her chief motivation, saying that she felt that she could no longer serve as a public representative of the magazine.
“We need to make the art world a more equitable, just, and safe place for women at all levels,” Kuo wrote. “And that can only be achieved when organizations and communities are bound by shared trust, honesty, and accountability.”
Her successor, Velasco, has been with the publication for 12 years. Artforum‘s publishers have announced their intention to create a special task force of women at the magazine to help it transform its work environment into one that is professional and safe for all.
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