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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Prominent Artists Urge Boycott Following Artforum’s Editor Dismissal

Following the dismissal of its top editor, David Velasco, due to the publication of an open letter on the Israel-Hamas conflict, Artforum magazine faces growing turmoil as another editor resigns, and prominent artists threaten to boycott the publication unless Velasco is reinstated.

Tensions over how to address the Middle East conflict have strained longstanding relationships between art collectors and artists. Nicole Eisenman and Nan Goldin, both well-respected figures in the art world, expressed their disappointment in the magazine’s decision to terminate Velasco, who served as the editor-in-chief for six years. They announced their refusal to collaborate with Artforum any further, citing concerns about increasing blacklisting and job loss.

Goldin, known as one of the most celebrated living photographers, had signed the open letter that called for Palestinian liberation and a cease-fire. She stated, “I have never lived through a more chilling period,” highlighting the blacklisting and job losses faced by those expressing their views.

A group of nearly 50 Artforum employees and contributors took a stand by signing a separate letter, demanding Velasco’s reinstatement. They argued that his dismissal not only threatens Artforum’s editorial independence but also contradicts the magazine’s core mission of facilitating diverse perspectives and cultural discourse.

The controversy was triggered by Artforum’s publication of an open letter on October 19, which initially omitted mention of the Hamas attack responsible for the deaths of over 1,400 Israelis. Subsequently, a campaign of letters and criticism erupted, condemning the artists, cultural workers, and Velasco for signing the open letter.

Gallerists urged individuals to remove their names from the letter, while some collectors urged the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University to cancel an exhibition by Jumana Manna, a Palestinian artist who had endorsed the open letter. The museum, however, chose to proceed with the exhibition.

In response to the pressure from advertisers, Artforum distanced itself from the open letter. The magazine’s publishers released a statement emphasizing that the post was not in line with Artforum’s editorial process and had been widely misinterpreted as an official statement on complex geopolitical matters.

Penske Media Corporation, the owner of Artforum, has not provided any public comment regarding the situation.

The fallout from Velasco’s termination continues, as another editor, Kate Sutton, resigned from Artforum, expressing her uncertainty about the magazine’s future. Prominent artists, caught in the crossfire, have faced threats from collectors, complicating their ability to publicly defend their endorsement of the open letter, which aimed to promote peace.

Eisenman, an artist recognized for her exhibitions in institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art, remarked that collectors seemed to believe they had the right to influence artists’ actions based on the art they owned. She strongly asserted her stance, expressing a desire for peace and criticizing attempts to divert attention from the central message of the open letter: a call for a cease-fire.

Art collectors even went as far as trying to persuade artists to retract their signatures. Some in the art community threatened to voice their concerns by selling artworks created by signatories of the letter.

While fears of rising antisemitism have emerged, Sarah Lehat Blumenstein, who is Jewish and works as a fundraiser for a major museum, mentioned having a “deaccession plan” that would affect artists’ reputations, though she clarified that this plan was not currently in effect. She justified her efforts as a response to her fear of endangering her right to exist.

Nan Goldin noted that people have erroneously equated antisemitism with supporting Palestinians. She affirmed the artists’ right to free speech, and despite her respect for Velasco, she declared her decision not to work with Artforum due to his termination.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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