Artforum Promises Change After Publisher Resigns Under Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
By Olivia Williams
In early October the New York Times published an exposé, written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Unsurprisingly, the exposé quickly rocked the foundations of the producer's career. As one would expect, the stories of Weinstein’s gross abuse of power scandalized the public, fueling conversations about how sexual harassment is perpetuated in society.
As I observed and contributed to these conversations over the weeks that followed, I was dragged by my own cynicism. I perceived the rampant conversation that the Weinstein scandal inspired to be a blip in the history of ignoring the abuse of women. Not even 20 years old, I felt like my experience merited such cynicism. Yes, 19 year old me remembered how the supposed take-down of a powerful, public figure for sexual abuse had played out before. Anyone remember Bill Cosby? I thought: a week or two more of this and then the conversation will lose momentum, overwhelmed by an even more impassioned conversation.
Nearly a month has passed and I am pleased to admit to my own naiveté. The backlash against Weinstein has created what appears to be an unprecedented movement in the greater conversation on sexism and its normalization in society. The Weinstein exposé and the conversation that followed were seemingly familiar, yet had remarkable potency. This past month has shown a tumult of accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful male figures.
At first, the accusations of sexual abuse were exclusive to the entertainment industry, but have since expanded their reach: bigwigs in politics and the literary world now face similar accusations. Even more so, we are seeing the industries themselves battling criticism for their own complicity, having turned a blind eye to misbehavior in favor of their own interests.
Sadly, the art world is not above reproach in terms of its complicity in cultivating an environment which tolerates sexual harassment. On October 25th, a lawsuit was filed against Knight Landesman, a publisher of Artforum: an international magazine with a focus on contemporary art. Hours after the sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against him, Landesman resigned from his position. The numerous stories of Landesman, a powerful figure with deep ties to the art industry, making sexual advances on female colleagues are disturbing to say the least. Equally unsettling is the suit’s accusation that the owners of Artforum knowingly dismissed Landesman’s pattern of sexual abuse, in turn normalizing his abusive behavior and creating a hostile work environment.
Following Landesman’s resignation the magazine issued the following statement: “We will do everything in our ability to bring our workplace in line with our editorial mission, and we will use this opportunity to transform Artforum into a place of transparency, equity, and with zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any kind. Regretfully, this behavior undermines the feminist ideals we have long strived to stand for. In response, we are creating a special task force of women at the magazine who will oversee this transformation.”
The kind of so-called transformation that Artforum will undergo following the take down of Landesman, a pillar of the magazine, is unclear. My own cynicism says Artforum’s transformation is feigned: a clear attempt to disassociate the magazine from the parasitism of sexual abuse allegations. But then I stop myself. I remind myself of the small excitement I felt as I saw the impact of the Weinstein exposé: women galvanized into calling-out industry bigwigs for their abuse of power and mistreatment of women. Artforum, I am taking a risk. As a young woman with a stake in the art world, I will wait to reserve judgement until I have seen how you respond to the setback of this lawsuit. I sincerely hope you surprise me.