New York Academy of Art promises new student and collector guidelines in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein abuse allegations.

Wallace Ludel
Aug 27, 2019 5:05PM, via artnet News

Protesters in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8, 2019. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

As details continue to emerge regarding the predatory practices of Jeffrey Epstein, one campus in New York has continued to appear in headlines: the New York Academy of Art (NYAA). NYAA is a private graduate-level art school in lower Manhattan where Epstein was a board member from 1987 to 1994. Now, as questions arise regarding Epstein’s relationship to the school, both as a board member and as a collector of student art, the academy has promised to change its governing guidelines regarding the relationships between students and collectors.

On Monday, The New York Times published the account of Maria Farmer, a painter who first met Epstein when she was a graduate student at NYAA, and who, along with her sister, first reported Epstein’s predatory behavior to authorities in the late ’90s, then again in 2003 to a reporter from Vanity Fair. Farmer first met Epstein at her graduate thesis show when Eileen Guggenheim, the academy’s dean, introduced her and encouraged her to sell Epstein a painting at half price. Guggenheim told The New York Times that she does not remember this interaction.

Farmer told artnet News:

Sometimes he would just come to the school and walk around and watch the artists. He was at every single event. [. . .] [He was] often lurking around, looking at the students’ studios.

After this sale, Epstein hired Farmer to help acquire art for him and eventually offered to give Farmer studio space to work on a commission. He arranged her travels to the Ohio mansion of a friend of his, clothing magnate and art collector Leslie Wexner, where she could paint. Farmer recalled that once there, Epstein requested a foot massage before he and his companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, began groping her. The painter Eric Fischl, who was a professor of Farmer’s at the academy, recalls getting a phone call from Farmer that night. “I just kept telling Maria, ‘You’ve got to get out of there. You’ve got to get out of there,’” he told The New York Times. Eventually Farmer’s father drove from Kentucky to pick her up at the estate.

A representative of the New York Academy of Art told artnet News it is taking steps to change the way art collectors interact with its students:

The New York Academy of Art is deeply shocked and saddened by what one of our graduates, Maria Farmer, went through at the hands of Jeffrey Epstein, and we are truly sorry for what happened to Maria [. . .] The office of the president is establishing a committee to formalize a protocol for how art collectors can and should interact with the Academy’s student artists.

Farmer is currently working on a portrait series of Epstein’s victims. She added that, though Epstein made attempts at derailing her career, she’s glad to have been able to tell her story, telling artnet News, “I need it said, I want people to know about the people who really abuse artists.”

Wallace Ludel