Artforum’s parent company Penske Media fired the publication’s Editor-in-Chief David Velasco yesterday, October 26, one week after the magazine published an open letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Penske’s decision comes amid Israel’s ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which has killed over 7,000 Palestinians and displaced an estimated 1.4 million residents, following the Hamas militant group attack that killed more than 1,300 Israelis.
According to reporting by the Intercept, Penske Media was pushed to fire Velasco following an internal pressure campaign by dealers and collectors, including Bed Bath & Beyond heir Martin Eisenberg. Penske Media, owned by Jay Penske, acquired Artforum last December, placing the magazine under the same ownership as Artnews and Art in America and raising questions about the future of arts journalism. In the wake of Velasco’s dismissal, some art workers are sharing calls for a boycott of Artforum.
The fallout at the magazine began almost immediately following Artforum‘s publication of the October 19 missive, which was first shared publicly by the art collective For Freedoms in a since-deleted social media post and then reported on by Hyperallergic. A few hours after the letter surfaced on Artforum with thousands of signatories, including artists Nan Goldin, Cecilia Vicuña, Barbara Kruger, and Kara Walker, the magazine faced a barrage of public comments decrying the text for failing to mention the October 7 Hamas attack. A post about the letter was swiftly removed from Artforum’s Instagram, and the magazine added a disclaimer on its website clarifying that the letter “was not composed, directed, or initiated by Artforum or its staff.” The next day, art dealers Dominique Lévy, Amalia Dayan, and Bretty Gorvy penned a response in Artforum, writing that they were “distressed” at the letter’s failure to mention the “mass hostage emergency, the historical context, and the atrocities committed in Israel on October 7, 2023.” The Israeli art magazine Erev Rav also shared a critical counter-letter. Meanwhile, several artists who signed the original letter have since requested that their names be removed.
Yesterday, Artforum publishers Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza issued a statement on behalf of the publication claiming that the open letter had been published “without our, or the requisite senior members of the editorial team’s, prior knowledge.” Koza and McConnell went on to say that the letter should have been presented “as a news item with the relevant context” rather than in its current format, which led it to be “misinterpreted as being reflective of the magazine’s position.”
Artforum publishes primarily art criticism and describes itself on its About page as a “foremost tastemaker of the industry.” The magazine’s News section publishes its articles without bylines, all signed “News Desk.”
In an email statement to the New York Times, which first reported on Velasco’s firing, he said, “I have no regrets … I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.” Velasco has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Velasco joined Artforum in 2005 and became editor-in-chief in 2017. He succeeded Michelle Kuo, who stepped down amid the fallout of the magazine’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against publisher Knight Landesman; former employee Amanda Schmitt filed a lawsuit that included testimony from eight other women. Though Landesman resigned, he remained a co-owner of the company. Artforum settled Schmitt’s unlawful retaliation case in 2021 for an undisclosed sum.
In recent weeks, as Israel’s siege and air strikes on Gaza intensify, artists and cultural workers have experienced retaliatory actions and intimidation for expressing their solidarity with Palestine, including canceled talks and awards. Several artists who spoke to Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity earlier this week said collectors had reached out to them or their galleries with threats to stop supporting their careers.
Penske Media and Artforum have not responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.