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Thousands of women sign letter condemning sexual harassment in art industry

This comes on the heels of a sexual harassment lawsuit against Artforum publisher Knight Landesman.


Tess Cagle


Posted on Oct 30, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 12:51 pm CDT

Thousands of artists have signed an open letter condemning sexual harassment and vowing to call out perpetrators of sexual inequity in the art industry.

The letter comes as a result of the resignation of Knight Landesman, publisher of Artforum, in the wake of a lawsuit alleging he sexually harassed at least nine women, according to the New York Times.

“We are artists, arts administrators, assistants, curators, directors, editors, educators, gallerists, interns, scholars, students, writers, and more—workers of the art world—and we have been groped, undermined, harassed, infantilized, scorned, threatened, and intimidated by those in positions of power who control access to resources and opportunities,” the letter reads on a website called “Not Surprised.”

But the letter makes it clear that the 150 authors who collaborated to create its final draft are not just condemning the actions of Landesman, they also wish to call out the institutionalized sexism inherent in the art industry.

“Many institutions and individuals with power in the art world espouse the rhetoric of feminism and equity in theory, often financially benefitting from these flimsy claims of progressive politics, while preserving oppressive and harmful sexist norms in practice,” the letter reads. “Those in power ignore, excuse, or commit everyday instances of harassment and degradation, creating an environment of acceptance of and complicity in many more serious, illegal abuses of power.”

The lengthy list of signers includes iconic artists such as Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer, whose work “Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise” is the opening image, as well as at least 14 women who have worked at Artforum. Artists can continue to sign the letter on the site.

In conjunction with the creation of the letter, the authors have also Kickstarted a social media campaign, #notsurprised, relaying the fact that women in the art industry are not shocked when they experience sexual harassment because “abuse of power comes as no surprise.”

Artforum also published its own open letter, which condemns the way the magazine’s management has handled the allegations against Landesman.

We are committed to gender justice and to the eradication of sexual harassment in the art community and beyond,” the letter said. “We are now gravely aware of the work that needs to be done at our own publication, and call on the publishers to work with us to create radical and lasting change.”

Previously, Artforum suggested it plans to initiate a task force of women to transform the magazine into a “place of transparency, equity, and with zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any kind.”

The signers of the #norsurprised letter said they have no interest in participating, however.

“We will not join ‘task forces’ to solve a problem that is perpetrated upon us,” the letter said.

Instead, the writers said the letter is their own first public step taken to address and act upon these issues. They plan to build the next steps based on the feedback they receive.  

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*First Published: Oct 30, 2017, 12:16 pm CDT