In the days after Artforum magazine fired its top editor, David Velasco, because of an open letter it published about the Israel-Hamas war, at least four other editors resigned and several prominent artists said they would boycott the publication unless Velasco was reinstated.
Divisions over how to discuss the conflict in the Middle East have frayed yearslong relationships between collectors and artists. On Friday, Nicole Eisenman and Nan Goldin criticized the magazine’s owner for terminating Velasco, who had been its editor in chief for six years, and said they would no longer work with Artforum.
“I have never lived through a more chilling period,” said Goldin, who is one of the most celebrated living photographers and signed the open letter that called for Palestinian liberation and a cease-fire. “People are being blacklisted. People are losing their jobs.”
At least four Artforum editors have resigned after the decision to fire Velasco: Zack Hatfield, a senior editor; Emily LaBarge, a freelance editor; Kate Sutton, an associate editor; and Chloe Wyma, a senior editor. On social media, Hatfield posted that Velasco’s firing “is unacceptable and bodes ominously for the future of the magazine”; Wyma wrote that it “violates everything I had cherished about the magazine and makes my work there untenable.”
In addition, nearly 50 Artforum employees and contributors have signed a letter demanding that Velasco be reinstated, saying his termination “not only carries chilling implications for Artforum’s editorial independence but disaffirms the very mission of the magazine: to provide a forum for multiple perspectives and cultural debate.” A spokeswoman for Penske Media Corporation, which owns Artforum, said on Saturday afternoon that the magazine had not seen the letter.
After the magazine published an open letter on Oct. 19 that did not initially mention the attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 Israelis, there was a backlash among some readers.
A sudden campaign of letters denounced the thousands of artists and cultural workers, including Velasco, who had signed the letter. Gallerists urged people to remove their names from the letter, and several collectors asked the Wexner Center for the Arts, at Ohio State University, to shut down an exhibition of Jumana Manna, a Palestinian artist who had signed the open letter. (A museum spokesman said it would continue to exhibit Manna’s work; she confirmed that the show was still on.)
Artforum, which has about 30,000 print subscribers and gets about 8.3 million pageviews annually, distanced itself from the open letter after receiving pressure from advertisers. The magazine’s publishers later released a statement that said the post was “not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process,” adding that it was “widely misinterpreted as a statement from the magazine about highly sensitive and complex geopolitical circumstances.”
More than a dozen artists told The New York Times that threats of reprisal from collectors made it difficult to publicly defend their decision to sign the open letter, emphasizing that their intention was to call for peace.
“Collectors are always, in one way or another, making a big deal out of something an artist signed,” said Eisenman, who has exhibited with institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. “But it is still surprising to learn how many collectors believe that owning a few drawings of mine means they get to tell me what to do with my name.”
She added: “I want to echo what activists have been yelling in the streets: Not in my name. This war will not be done in my name. I resent these cowardly bullying and blackmail campaigns to distract everyone in the art world from the central demand of the letter, which was: cease-fire!” [Continue reading…]