Artforum Publisher Knight Landesman Resigns Following Sexual Harassment Allegations—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 Knight Landesman, art-world gatekeeper and longtime co-publisher of Artforum, resigned on Wednesday following allegations of sexual harassment made by several women against him.
The resignation came one day after artnet News writer Rachel Corbett first reported the allegations of sexual harassment from both men and women, and the same day former Artforum employee Amanda Schmitt filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against Landesman and her former employer. The suit alleges that Landesman sexually harassed her for years while the magazine’s executives did little to intervene, despite being aware of his behavior, according to the complaint. Its 27 pages include allegations from eight other women, who, though not plaintiffs in the case, said that Landesman harassed them as well. The allegations against Landesman include public groping, lewd emails, and requests for kisses and backrubs, as well as professional retaliation when his advances were rebuffed. “In the past days, we have met with our staff and they have told us that Knight Landesman engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment,” Artforum said in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday. “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.” Michelle Kuo, the publication’s editor-in-chief for over seven years, resigned last week before news of the allegations went public. “I resigned because I felt that, in light of the troubling allegations surrounding one of our publishers, I could no longer serve as a public representative of Artforum,” she wrote in a statement provided to ARTnews. And late on Thursday, Artforum and Bookforum staffers signed an open letter, posted on the Artforum website, condemning the handling of the allegations against Knight Landesman by their own magazine’s management. “[We] repudiate the statements that have been issued to represent us so far,” reads the statement, signed by over 40 staffers.
02 Current and former members of the Berkshire Museum filed a lawsuit to halt the institution’s planned sale of 40 artworks.
The auction of the works planned for next month—which will see pieces by Norman Rockwell, Francis Picabia, and Alexander Calder for sale—is expected to bring in $50 million, which the museum will use for renovations and to boost its endowment, a violation of industry guidelines on deaccessioning. The museum’s sale attracted controversy immediately after it was announced in August. Critics argue it is financially unnecessary and a violation of the statute that set up the museum, which mandates that gifts be kept for “the people of Berkshire County and the general public.” The museum maintains, in a statement to artnet News, that it is legally able to sell the works, and that its trustees have not violated their fiduciary responsibility to the institution. The suit filed by members and Berkshire residents on Wednesday, along with a separate suit filed by a group that includes three Rockwell children last Friday, will bring the ongoing debate around the auction into courtrooms. Both suits also urge Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey to halt the sale. “The sale would harm the museum and its members irreparably and we have asked the Court to put the sale on hold,” said Nicholas O’Donnell, an attorney for the members, in a statement, arguing that the sale violates the institution’s obligations to them. A judge will rule on the members’ request for an immediate injunction this coming Wednesday.
03 Provenance researchers have confirmed that an artwork from the Gurlitt art trove was Nazi-looted, due to a small hole in the painting’s canvas.
The painting by Thomas Couture is the sixth artwork confirmed as Nazi-looted since the discovery, first made in 2012, of thousands of pieces in the Munich apartment and Salzburg home of Cornelius Gurlitt. He had inherited them from his father Hildebrand, an art dealer who traded works labeled “degenerate” by the Nazis. Authorities have only been able to confirm the origins of a small number of the 1,280 items, seized when police first raided Gurlitt’s home five years ago, due to the difficult process of tracing the provenance of art lost during World War II. The Couture painting was only identified because of a small, repaired hole in the canvas, which allowed researchers to match it with a note written immediately after the war. That correspondence, likely by a French conservator handling restitutions claims at the time, mentioned a small restored hole in an otherwise vaguely described Couture. Further research confirmed that the painting in the note was indeed the one found in the Gurlitt collection. Authorities believe it belongs to the family of Georges Mandel, a French-Jewish politician detained by the Nazis and later murdered by a militia of French collaborators during the war, and a claim has already been made for the work’s return.
04 “Freeport king” Yves Bouvier sold his Swiss shipping and storage firm to a family-run French company.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The French company André Chenue bought Natural Le Coultre, the Geneva Freeport’s largest tenant, for an undisclosed sum, The Art Newspaper reported Thursday. Yves Bouvier’s father had purchased Natural Le Coultre, then a generalized shipping firm, in 1982; the younger Bouvier took over the firm in 1997 and pivoted the company towards handling fine art. Bouvier has been in a protracted legal dispute with the Russian mining billionaire and art collector Dimitry Rybolovlev, which The Art Newspaper said was “likely to have made a considerable dent in Bouvier’s business and prompted the sale” of his company. Bouvier is accused by Rybolovlev of “swindling him out of $1 billion in the purchase of around 38 works of art over a decade,” according to The Art Newspaper, including the last Leonardo da Vinci painting in private hands. The Leonardo painting, Salvator Mundi (c. 1500), will be auctioned in mid-November at Christie’s. It carries an estimate of $100 million.
05 Germany’s far-right party has sued Documenta over the quinquennial’s alleged financial mismanagement.
(via artnet News)
Kassel city council members belonging to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party brought the suit on October 18th amid an ongoing independent audit into Documenta’s cost overruns, which reportedly reached around €5 million. The suit names Documenta’s artistic director, Adam Szymczyk, and CEO, Annette Kulenkampff, as well as its board and Kassel’s current and former mayors, asserting that they are all responsible for the event’s financial irregularities, artnet News reported. Szymczyk has previously defended his tenure and curatorial team, but early indications are that Documenta’s split venues of Kassel and Athens drove costs up and created unanticipated logistical difficulties (for example, Documenta staffers reportedly brought bags full of euros into cash-strapped Greece to get the exhibition running). The suit illustrates the increasing politicization of Documenta and the ability of Germany’s far-right—emboldened after winning almost 13 percent of the vote in the country’s national elections last month—to flex its political muscles. The suit follows an open letter signed by prominent figures in Germany’s art world protesting the appointment of an AfD member as chairman of the Bundestag’s Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs.
06 An agreement was reached between art dealer David Mugrabi and the storage company allegedly holding $100 million worth of his works “hostage” over unpaid fees.
David Mugrabi, son of New York mega-dealer Jose Mugrabi, accused Mana Contemporary of “destroying the business” by refusing him access to his 1,389 works stored in the company’s New Jersey location, effectively preventing his company from doing business, according to a court complaint filed Monday. On Tuesday, a judge ruled that by Wednesday, Mana must release five works—three of which have been sold and two of which are slated to appear in forthcoming exhibitions—which the company agreed to do in exchange for $1 million promised by the Mugrabis. In 2014, Mana and Mugrabi reportedly struck a deal, whereby the dealer could store the work free of charge if the Mugrabi family recommended Mana to its clients. But a lawyer for the storage company said in a statement that the Mugrabi family’s company owed over $500,000 in storage fees “for an extended period of time,” and that Mana had “no choice” but to hold the works.
07 A Turkish right-wing group protested an exhibition in Istanbul over a hyperrealistic nude sculpture by artist Ron Mueck.
The work is on view as part of an exhibition of businessman Ömer Koç’s collection in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul. Mueck’s Man Under Cardigan (1998) was placed in a fireplace in the gallery, but protesters mistook the İznik tile surrounding the hearth for “either a mihrab, the semicircular niche in a mosque that faces Mecca, or a minbar, the pulpit in a mosque where the imam delivers a sermon,” according to ArtAsiaPacific. Led by Mahmut Alan, former head of the right-wing Great Unionist Party (BBP), a group stormed the exhibition last weekend before being forced out by security guards to the cheers of onlookers. A second protest the next day was “quickly suppressed,” reported ArtAsiaPacific. “Trying to create a perception that sacred values are being targeted with this exhibition has no basis,” Koç Holdings told ArtAsiaPacific. The protest came just three days after authorities in the country arrested businessman and cultural patron Osman Kavala, ostensibly because of his ties to last year’s failed coup in the country. Critics charge that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using the coup to crack down on political opponents and free speech in the country. In a statement, PEN America called Kavala’s arrest “further evidence of the severe erosion of democratic principles in Turkey.”
08 Hundreds of cultural figures and arts professionals called for artistic freedom in Brazil last week in an open letter.
The letter protested the “wave of hate, intolerance, and violence against free expression” washing over Brazil, Artforum reported, citing a spate of incidents in which the country’s conservative political and religious forces have mobilized against cultural institutions, in some cases forcing closures or censorship. The letter, which has over a thousand signatures, referred specifically to a decision by the Santander Cultural Center to close an exhibition on queer art ahead of schedule after conservatives accused it of promoting pedophilia; the controversy over a performance at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo featuring a nude artist; and a protest against works by artist Pedro Moraleida at the Palace of Arts in Belo Horizonte, whose show was also alleged by conservatives to be an apology for pedophilia. The letter encouraged Brazilians to “defend and deepen the rights to an environment of free circulation of ideas, and denounce those who work to destroy democracy in Brazil,” Artforum reported. It was read aloud in the National Congress by Workers’ Party member Paulo Teixeira, and at the exhibition “Histories of Sexuality” at the Museu du Arte de São Paulo, which had set an 18-and-over age requirement for the show under pressure from conservatives.
09 Two Greek antiquities suspected of being looted surfaced for sale at Frieze Masters in London.
(via The Guardian)
Two vases, known as lekythoi and created in the 4th century B.C., went on sale at Frieze Masters earlier this month for upwards of £100,000 apiece. Archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis first connected the two objects to Swiss dealer Gianfranco Becchina, who has been convicted of trafficking illicit cultural property. In 2015, the art squad of the Italian carabinieri held a conference in Rome showcasing over 5,000 illicit antiquities seized from Becchina, who was part of a widespread looting network. Many objects from Becchina’s cache are thought to remain on the market, and their identification typically ends in surrender and repatriation of the works. But according to The Guardian, the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt, which consigned the two works to be sold at Frieze, claimed to have permission to sell the items from the carabinieri. The Italian police were reportedly unable to legally hold over 1,000 pieces from the original seizure and ultimately returned them to the Swiss state. Since the region’s public prosecutor could neither prove conclusively where the pieces originated, nor that Becchina had legally held the pieces, their fate remains unclear. The London-based Art Loss Register database had previously cleared their sale, but it may now reconsider, according to The Guardian.
10 Architect David Adjaye has won a competition to design London’s new Holocaust memorial.
(via the New York Times)
The competition’s jury unanimously selected Adjaye’s design, beating out 91 other submissions from across the globe. Adjaye and his team, which included Israeli architect Ron Arad and landscape architecture company Gustafson Porter & Bowman, proposed a bronze sculptural installation symbolizing the destruction of Jewish communities in 22 countries. The plans also feature an underground educational space that will include recorded testimonies of Holocaust survivors and “examine hatred and prejudice in other forms, including racism and Islamophobia,” according to the New York Times. However, the planned location at the Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament, has received criticism from neighboring institutions, government officials, and residents. In an April letter sent to the House of Lords, critics argued that the gardens will “cease to be an amenity for ordinary people” because of the memorial, which will receive £50 million in public funds. While scheduled to open in 2021, the memorial has yet to be approved by building regulators.
Cover Image: Photo by Zach Hyman/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.