Artforum sacks editor in chief David Velasco following open letter on Palestine

Artforum editor David Velasco in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, dir. Nan Goldin, 2022. © Neon. Courtesy Everett Collection

David Velasco, who has been at the helm of Artforum for six years, and at the magazine for 18, was fired by the magazine’s publishers, who in a statement posted on the magazine’s website claimed that an open letter signed by thousands in support of Palestine ‘was widely misinterpreted as a statement from the magazine about highly sensitive and complex geopolitical circumstances’. Following a week of speculation since the open letter was published, Velasco, who had also signed it, was called into a meeting with Penske Media, the conglomerate that bought Artforum in 2022 and owns several other media titles including ArtNews, Rolling Stone and The Hollywood Reporter, and fired.

The letter, titled ‘Open letter from the art community to cultural organisations’ and published on Artforum and e-flux 19 October, called for an immediate ceasefire in Palestine, the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza and an end to the complicity of Western governments in human rights violations. It declared, ‘We believe that the arts organisations and institutions whose mission it is to protect freedom of expression, to foster education, community, and creativity, also stand for freedom of life and the basic right of existence.’ It was signed by thousands of artists, curators, critics and other members of the art community.

Artforum, which memorably published ‘The Tear Gas Biennial’, a statement from artist Hannah Black and writers Ciarán Finlayson and Tobi Haslett regarding the 2019 Whitney Biennial and an open letter from artists included in the show that together led to the resignation of industrialist Warren Kanders from the Whitney’s board, has now faced immense pressure to distance itself from any misconception that the open letter represented the magazine or its employees’ views. A day after the initial letter was posted, the magazine ran a response from gallerists Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy and Amalia Dayan condemning the letter for ‘its one-sided view’, and its failure to mention the historical context in the region, the ongoing hostage emergency and the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel on 7 October.

On the evening of 26 October, investigative journalism nonprofit The Intercept reported on a ‘pressure campaign’ behind the scenes following the publication of the open letter, with high-profile collectors and gallerists demanding that artists retract and remove their names from the letter. The Intercept also added that ‘right-wing groups lobbying for Israel, as well as donors to prominent institutions and various other wealthy interests, are condemning open letters and using the lists of signatories as blacklists across cultural, professional, and academic spheres’.

In an email to The New York Times, Velasco has said, ‘I have no regrets. I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.’

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