News

NY Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Alleging Defamation by Artforum Co-owner Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Amanda Schmitt, a former Artforum employee, accused Landesman of sexual misconduct occurring during and after her career at the magazine. Her claims were backed by eight other women.

Statue of Themis, an ancient Greek personification of law and justice, in Brisbane (photo by Rae Allen/Flickr)
Statue of Themis, an ancient Greek personification of law and justice, in Brisbane (photo by Rae Allen/Flickr)

A New York State Supreme Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Knight Landesman, co-owner and former publisher of Artforum magazine, made by Amanda Schmitt, a former Artforum employee and New York-based curator. Schmitt accused Landesman, a prominent figure in the art world, of sexual misconduct — however, Schmitt’s employment with Artforum ended in 2012, and the statute of limitations for her case against Landesman expired. In October 2017, Schmitt filed a motion against Landesman for aggressively confronting her about her allegations in May 2017, and against Artforum for breaching their promise to protect her against Landesman’s continued advances.

Schmit’s lawsuit details that soon after beginning her position Landesman “singled [Schmitt] out for unwelcome sexual attention” including “touching her, uninvited, on her hips, shoulders, buttocks, hands and neck.” Eight other women provided claims of sexual harassment.

Just hours after Schmitt’s lawsuit was filed, Landesman resigned as publisher of Artforum. That day, editor-in-chief Michelle Kuo also resigned from her position, telling ARTnews: “I felt that, in light of the troubling allegations surrounding one of our publishers, I could no longer serve as a public representative of Artforum. We need to make the art world a more equitable, just, and safe place for women at all levels. And that can only be achieved when organizations and communities are bound by shared trust, honesty, and accountability.” Kuo took a position at the Museum of Modern Art soon after, and it is unclear if she was already planning to leave the publication before she resigned in protest.

However, Schmitt was unable to file her 2017 lawsuit under allegations of sexual misconduct, as the statute of limitations had expired. (Schmitt started her career at Artforum in 2009 at age 21 and left the publication in 2012.) However, she says that Landesman continued to harass her, through email and in person. Despite her attempts to cease contact, Schmitt says Landesman continued his attempts.

In June 2016, Schmitt sent Landesman a text message saying: “You have been sexually harassing me since 2012 and continue to do so. I want it to stop.” She then met with two of the magazine’s other publishers, Charles Guarino and Danielle McConnell, to show them Landesman’s messages.

In June of 2016, Guarino wrote Schmitt an email assuring he would take action to ensure this never happened again. However, Schmitt says she continued to receive messages from Landesman, and she no longer received invitations to Artforum events. Schmitt made a claim against Artforum for breaching its promise, but the judge dismissed that claim as well.

Instead, Schmitt brought Landesman to court over an incident she says occurred in May 2017, in which he allegedly aggressively confronted her in a restaurant, berating her about her claims that he had sexually harassed her, calling her a liar. Schmitt’s lawsuit says Landesman demanded she explain her allegations, and she initially walked away, but instead chose to return and list “for Landesman his many acts of harassment.” She calls his speech against her slander.

The New York Times reports that in December 2018, Justice Frank P. Nervo ruled that Landesman had confronted Schmitt in a “purely social setting” in which he was allowed to defend himself without claims of defamation. He says that five years had passed between Schmitt’s employment and the event at the restaurant, which Nervo called enough time “to eliminate any nexus between her employment and the alleged acts.”

Emily Reisbaum, Schmitt’s lawyer, tells Hyperallergic: “We stand by our claims.  As to the facts, there is no real dispute about what happened at Artforum — both in terms of the rampant abuse and in terms of ArtForum’s [sic] and Landesman’s hostile and defamatory statements about Amanda.  As for the law, we respectfully disagree with the decision.”

ARTnews reports that Artforum wrote in a statement: “Despite the fact that the lawsuit has been dismissed, we remain firm in our commitment to create a safe and equitable workplace for our employees and associates.”

In February 2018 Hyperallergic reported that Landesman was still a co-owner of Artforum despite stepping down from his role as publisher. In February 2018, the publication wrote in a statement: “Regrettably, there are no legal means by which Artforum can simply divest [Landesman] of his shares, though the company is actively engaged in the process of recovering them.”  

comments (0)