At Large  October 30, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Artforum Editors Resign After David Velasco Fired for Gaza Letter

Screenshot via Youtube

David Velasco, the former Editor-in-Chief of Artforum, who was fired from that publication for publishing an open letter signed by artists about the Israel-Hamas war, and in support of Palestinian liberation.

Several editors of Artforum have resigned in solidarity with its former editor-in-chief, David Velasco, who was fired last week for his decision to publish an open letter about the Israel-Hamas war.

Velasco, who has been at the magazine for eighteen years and was editor-in-chief for the last six, was one of hundreds of artists, writers, and gallerists who signed the letter, which declared support of Palestinian liberation but did not mention the Hamas attack on October 7, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis. It remains unclear who wrote the letter. 

Since the news broke of Velasco’s firing, some of the magazine’s top editors and writers including Zach Hatfield, Emily LaBarge, Kate Sutton, and Chloe Wyma have resigned and artists such as Nan Goldin and Nicole Eisenman have called for Velasco’s reinstatement.

The letter, published on October 19, states that it supports Palestinian liberation and calls for a ceasefire as well as a call to send humanitarian aid into Gaza. It states “We, the undersigned, reject violence against all civilians, regardless of their identity, and we call for ending the root cause of violence: oppression, and the occupation.” Yet, despite its humanitarian lens, the letter – which has since been edited – was criticized by art world figures and collectors for not mentioning the October 7 Hamas attack.

Shortly after the letter was published, the magazine’s publishers, Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza, posted a statement on Artforum’s website saying that the letter was shared publicly without the senior editorial team’s knowledge, which was “not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process.” In addition, the site also published a response letter on October 20 by Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Amalia Dayan, the heavyweight art-dealing team behind Lévy Gorvy Dayan gallery, in which they “condem[ed] the open letter for its one-sided view.” 

Since the firing, proponents of both sides of the argument have been vocal this week: there was, as the New York Times reported, a large influx of letters that denounced those who had signed the original letter, with many gallerists calling for their artists to remove their names from it. Some threatened to sell works by artists who signed the letter. It was even reported that collectors asked a college museum to shut an exhibition of work by an artist who signed the open letter. 

The Intercept reported that high-profile collector Martin Eisenberg, who owns millions of dollars worth of artwork by artists who had signed the letter and is very highly esteemed in the art world, called several of those artists to "convey his displeasure at seeing their names on the letter."

Artists, meanwhile, have used their platforms to call into question the role of an artist’s political beliefs and that of a collector’s if they divulge. Nicole Eisenman said in a statement: “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.”

"Whatever position we took was our right to free speech," Goldin told the New York Times. She added that she has “no plans to work with Artforum because they fired someone for whom I have enormous respect.” 

In the case of the other senior editors who resigned, Chloe Wyma took to X to comment, saying “The firing of David Velasco violates everything I had cherished about the magazine and makes my work there untenable.” 

“I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure," Velasco told the New York Times.

There have been calls to reinstate Velasco, but Penske Media Corporation, which owns Artforum, has not yet issued a response.

Watch David Velasco interview artist Arthur Jafa for Artforum in September 2022

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