Artists call for boycott after Artforum fires its top editor

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Artists call for boycott after Artforum fires its top editor
Several artists have said they will stop working with the magazine after its response to an open letter that called for Palestinian liberation and a cease-fire.

By Zachary Small

NEW YORK, NY.- One day after Artforum magazine fired its top editor, David Velasco, because of an open letter it published about the Israel-Hamas war, another editor 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.”

Nearly 50 Artforum employees and contributors have signed a different 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.”

There was a backlash among some readers 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.

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 signed the open letter. (A museum spokesperson said it would continue to exhibit Manna’s work; she confirmed that the show was still on.)

Artforum 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.”

Penske Media Corp., which owns Artforum, did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one editor resigned from Artforum after its decision to fire Velasco: Kate Sutton, who had been an associate editor since 2018, said she was “absolutely gutted” and was “not sure I can see a way forward for the magazine.”

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, an artist who has exhibited with institutions including 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!”

Some collectors tried to persuade artists to retract their signatures. Others in the art world threatened to voice their concerns by selling works from those who signed the letter.

“We have a de-accession plan” that would “diminish the artists’ status,” Sarah Lehat Blumenstein, who fundraises for a major museum, wrote to members of a WhatsApp group organized as a response to the open letter.

In a phone interview, Blumenstein, who is Jewish, said that such a plan was not active and that her efforts to hold artists accountable came from a fear that rising antisemitism was endangering her right to exist.

Goldin said people had incorrectly conflated antisemitism with supporting Palestinians.

“Whatever position we took was our right to free speech,” she said. “I have no plans to work with Artforum because they fired someone for whom I have enormous respect.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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