I was working as what they used to call, in the mid-’80s, a “gallery monkey.” It was me and the guys hanging the shows. I was the receptionist. I was young, 21 years old, naive, just out of college. People would come into the gallery—it wasn’t just the ad salesman and then-publisher at Artforum, although he was one of the worst—it was collectors, curators, artists, I could go down the list. I don’t want to name names, but there were big artists who would come in and make comments, or invite me out for a drink.
Collectors, too. They’d come in the galleries, look around, and they’d say, “Ah, I’m really interested in buying this—let’s go next door and have a glass of wine, and talk about art.” That’s why the Landesman
thing and the [Harvey] Weinstein thing made me crazy. They’d use my interest in art to get me in a situation where I understood that they have power and money, and I’m just a receptionist, and I need the job. I’m making minimum wage, barely, and trying to save up for grad school.
I met Knight when he came into the gallery. It was across from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, so anytime there was something happening at the MCA, people would come across the street and they would look around the gallery, and I was paid to show them around and talk about the exhibition we had on. I think I met him at one of the openings, and he came in maybe the next day. It was super, super, creepy, because I’m being friendly—that’s my job. But then he asks me where I live, and what’s my address, and what’s my personal phone number, and could he come over. At that point, I’m just out of college, I live with my parents in this suburb of Chicago. And he said, “I’ll come out there and we can go out.” I mean, really so aggressive.
He wanted to go back in the store room and see what we had in there. And that’s normal, collectors may want to buy something that’s not showing, so we take them back and show them the other works we have. The feeling was very aggressive, he was kind of insinuating about some of the things I was showing him. There was an undertone of sexual aggression. And that’s the real tricky thing about this whole story—these guys prey on young women who are naive. If I’m nice to them, and talking to them, then they think, “Okay, this is a potential relationship, or whatever.” Sexual harassment doesn’t need to be physical, it can be verbal. Journalists, writers, actors are particularly good at using their words. [Ed. note: Landesman did not respond to a request for comment.]
In the art world, you have openings, and you go and you have a glass of wine or champagne, and if you’re young and generally nice-looking, it pulls all these guys in. It’s a whole culture. And also because in the art world it’s more sexually free; a lot of artists talk about sexuality, bodies, nudes, in their work, so automatically there’s a sort of undertone, an unspoken thing, that anyone who’s involved in the art world is more sexually free. So if you’re a woman in that climate, it’s more dangerous.
The owner of the gallery, she was a woman, but she was old school, so for her that was normal. She didn’t want to talk about those kinds of things, she didn’t want to talk about my personal life at all, she was of the attitude: Do your job, look pretty, and shut up. There’s that famous French expression, “sois belle et tais-toi.” Just do your job.
I used to wear kind of low-cut dresses, but I stopped doing that after a certain point because I just somehow needed to look more masculine, or gender-neutral, let’s say, to not attract this kind of attention. When I was younger, I was tall and thin, and I have large breasts. On a thin frame, large breasts immediately attract attention. Instead of wearing my dresses, I just wore suits.
[Reading about the Landesman allegations] was horrible. It brought back all the memories I had buried. These are the kind of experiences you bury, and you try to just go on. But when you hear other women coming out, and saying the same thing, that’s when you say, “Oh my gosh, so it wasn’t just me.” And also, I didn’t do anything wrong. Because I thought maybe it was my fault, maybe I had made him think I was interested, which is what we tend to do as women, especially in a harassment situation. “Oh, it was my fault because I was wearing this dress that was a little bit too low-cut, or a little bit snug, or I smiled a bit too much so maybe he got the wrong idea.”
Now everyone’s buzzing about it, but tomorrow they’ll be buzzing about something else. Our job is to keep it alive. This is ongoing, it’s been going on since my professional career began in the ’80s, and it’s still going on. We have to keep this alive and keep the voices of these people alive, to shame these guys out of behaving this way, if they have any shame. That’s the only problem. Because a lot of them don’t. They don’t even know what shame is. They can do whatever they want, because they have power.