Art World Responds to Knight Landesman Harassment Charges: “Not Surprised,” but Not Boycotting
Jenny Holzer, Untitled, 1982. Photo by John Marchael. Artwork courtesy of: Jane Dickson, Project Initiator and Animator
Image Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY.
The allegations of sexual harassment against Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman have produced an array of responses from across the art world, from calls for a boycott to an open letter decrying a broader climate of sexual harassment and discrimination to affirmations of support for the staff of the influential publication.
The diversity of the response highlights the difficulty of addressing such behavior in an industry with informal professional norms and where relationships play an outsized role, giving a figure like Landesman the power to make and break careers.
The allegations were first reported on Tuesday, October 24th, by artnet News, and included anecdotes from women and men who said they’d been groped by Landesman. On Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported that the former Artforum employee who was alleging harassment had filed a lawsuit in Manhattan’s Supreme Court against Landesman, who resigned that morning. A follow-up story published Thursday by artnet News contained additional detailed allegations by five women.
By Thursday afternoon, Alex Ross of New York’s Downs & Ross was calling for a boycott. Gallerist Lisa Spellman of 303 Gallery told artnet News she would stop advertising “until we see real, systematic changes,” and longtime New York art advisor Todd Levin called for every international gallerist and artist to pull advertisements and image rights from the magazine “for a period of 6 to 12 months to register their displeasure in a meaningful, concrete way.” He suggested dealers hire Artforum’s editorial staff to produce content for their galleries with the money they would have spent on advertising.
“What are people so afraid of?” Levin asked. “That Artforum won’t write about your artists? There are plenty of other people who write about art.”
Ross, who called for a broad boycott including not advertising, subscribing, or contributing to the magazine, said the news was a wake-up call for him. He noted that Landesman had always treated his female partner and colleagues with respect and professionalism, but he now looked at Landesman’s repeated unsolicited offers of professional help in a new light.
Ross said the allegations led him to recognize “that these opportunities came readily for a cis white male without stigma, abuse, or harassment while women far more capable than me had to cultivate closeness in the face of his revolting sexual harassment and explicit professional disrespect,” adding that the fact that the allegations “have gone largely unaddressed or unheard until recently infers, rather than any voicelessness, the willful deafness of the art establishment.”
He acknowledged that the response from galleries to his call for a boycott was not unanimous, but said several dealers including Maxwell Graham of Essex Street, Lisa Spellman, his partner Tara Downs, and Bill Cournoyer of advisory firm and private exhibition space The Meeting had already voiced their support.
“I can say with confidence that artists, critics, editors, collectors, advisors, a broad scope of museum, studio and gallery personnel, and curators have indicated their shared outrage,” he said.
The loudest response so far has come from a group 5,000-strong, mostly women, from the art world, who have signed a letter denouncing harassment and discrimination in the art world and are distributing it across social media channels with the hashtag #NotSurprised, a riff on
We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favors. We are not surprised when gallerists romanticize, minimize, and hide sexually abusive behavior by artists they represent. We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying. We are not surprised when Knight Landesman gropes us in the art fair booth while promising he’ll help us with our career. Abuse of power comes as no surprise.
Several galleries said they would continue to advertise with Artforum. Sean Kelly said he had no plans to pull advertisements.
“Obviously I feel sorry for anybody who was on the receiving end of any sort of behavior like that from any quarter, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to punish the organization for an individual’s issues,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a sad story all around…there are no winners in this story.”
Mary Sabbatino, vice president of Galerie Lelong and a longtime supporter of women in the art world, said she was not at all surprised to learn of sexual harassment in the art industry, but that “learning that someone who was a valued and trusted member of our community is accused of sexual harassment is shocking and of course turns upside down everything you felt about the person and the institution.” She said Galerie Lelong did not plan to pull out of already scheduled advertisements with Artforum.
“Going forward we will evaluate based on our needs. I think print journalism is fragile and I don’t think a mass pullout will service anyone,” Sabbatino said.
Marc Glimcher, president of Pace Gallery, said the recent allegations against Landesman were “deeply troubling” and “inexcusable,” but said the gallery would continue to advertise in the magazine.
“We believe that the importance of Artforum as an institution goes beyond the alleged reprehensible actions of an individual,” he said in a statement. “Pace Gallery will continue to support the writers and editors who make Artforum a vital platform for critical artistic discourse.”
The signatories of the list include several employees for the organizations which will continue to advertise, including Sabbatino and Lucy Fernandez, a sales assistant at Galerie Lelong, and Coraly Von Bismarck, a sales associate at Pace Gallery, London.
Artsy reached out on Friday to a representative sample of roughly two dozen art galleries and fairs who have recently advertised in the magazine or their press representatives for comment, and followed up on Monday morning. As of 7 p.m. on Monday, Marian Goodman Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Goodman Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, Cheim & Read, Alison Jacques Gallery, Frieze, Art Basel, TEFAF, FIAC, the Dallas Art Fair, EXPO Chicago, Esther Schipper, David Kordansky Gallery, David Zwirner, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Victoria Miro, Skarstedt Gallery, Marlborough Gallery, Lévy Gorvy, and Galerie Bruno Bischofberger did not respond to requests for comment. Galerie Frank Elbaz, Galerie nächst St. Stephan, and Zeno X declined to comment. Galleries are typically closed on Mondays.
Levin said that support needn’t be channeled through Artforum, and galleries could always support the editorial staff directly by hiring them for writing work such as catalogues raisonnés or other projects. But he said he was most concerned with the three co-publishers of Artforum, Anthony Korner, Charles Guarino, and Danielle McConnell, who, he said, did not take adequate steps to address Landesman’s alleged behavior until news broke about it.
“I have a really hard time believing that this systemic, long-term, behavior, which both externally and internally was a known thing, was not known to them,” Levin said. “Certainly one of them, if not all of them, to a greater or lesser extent knew what was going on…the issue is what is up with the other three co-publishers?”
Wendi Norris, a San Francisco-based dealer and advocate for women in the arts, also found the lack of response from management troubling, if not surprising, given how few people in the art industry have backgrounds or training in management or leadership.
“The business aptitude and practices and principles aren’t as strong in the art industry, relative to other industries. Management and the culture tends to brush these things aside for individuals,” said Norris, who worked in the corporate world as a consultant before opening her art gallery. “Why there isn’t more support for women or men in [arts] organizations to feel confident to come forward?”
She also said the art world, by its very nature, tends to traffic in ideas and content that can quickly lead into intimate or emotional conversations, citing, for example, artists who make work about sexuality.
“You get into conversations all the time in the art world that you could never get into in the corporate world,” she said. But she added that there were still clear boundaries.
“Just because you’re looking at erotic art, doesn’t mean you should have some fetishes you try to go actualize in the office.”
Anna Louie Sussman