Artforum Threatened by Boycott as Advertisers Flee

– They will have to buy him out somehow, says contributing editor Daniel Birnbaum following the recent events surrounding the magazine’s co-owner, accused of sexual harassment.

Kia LaBeija on the cover of Artforum, January 2018.

Recently an open letter addressed to Artforum aimed a strong critique at the magazine’s continued association with its former publisher, Knight Landesman, who is accused of over 20 cases of sexual harassment. The letter is the initiative of feminist collective We Are Not Surprised (WANS), which in October 2017, when the allegations against Landesman were initially made public, published a statement condemning sexual harassment and the abuse of power in the art world.

The new statement calls on signatories of the original letter “to not read, work with, or advertise in Artforum” until it cancels all dealings with Landesman, who is still a partner of the magazine while involved in a legal process with former employee Amanda Schmitt. Critical of what is described as Artforum’s feminist “façade” under new editor-in-chief David Velasco, WANS makes two demands: first, that Landesman be removed from co-ownership; second, that Artforum “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.”

Knight Landesman at Independent Art Fair in 2017. Photo: Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan, Getty Images.

At the time of writing over 150 gallery directors have signed the letter published by WANS, a number that has been increasing by the day. Among the undersigned from the nordic countries are Stine Hebert, dean of Oslo National Academy of the Arts, and Mats Stjernstedt, director of Malmö Konsthall, along with representatives of galleries such as Standard in Oslo, Andréhn-Schiptjenko and Magnus Karlsson in Stockholm and Nicolai Wallner in Copenhagen.

Of the approximately ten galleries, museums and municipal spaces for contemporary art that have advertised or taken part in Artforum’s art guide over the past year, however, none have explicitly chosen to terminate their collaboration with the magazine based on the allegations directed against Landesman. On the other hand, following the most recent WANS letter, none have stated that they will continue to advertise in the magazine.

One of few nordic galleries that has indeed advertised in Artforum since the Landesman scandal was exposed is Galleri K in Oslo. According to them, the issue was resolved in the fall:

– He was fired and that settled it, Ben Frija at Galleri K tells Kunstkritikk.

Among the galleries that have, to the contrary, announced that they will no longer collaborate with Artforum for political reasons are New York based 303 Gallery and Los Angeles based Blum & Poe. Already in the fall, director of 303 Gallery Lisa Spellman told Artnet that she would not advertise in Artforum until “real, systematic change” became apparent. What number of the galleries that have signed the letter — such as David Zwirner and Gagosian — will continue to support the magazine is presently unclear, as most have declined to respond to questions from the press.

Among the institutions and galleries contacted by Kunstkritikk, only director of Moderna Museet Daniel Birnbaum would comment on the new demands made by WANS. A contributing editor and regular writer for Artforum for many years, Birnbaum is explicit in his critique.

– Artforum cannot keep Landesmand as a co-owner while distancing themselves from him, Birnbaum replies to a direct question regarding the demands in WANS’s letter. They will have to buy him out somehow. And they must take the lawsuit seriously, as well, even if legal processes of course have to be handled correctly, he concludes.