New York’s Supreme Court has dismissed a case against Artforum International Magazine, Inc., and the publication’s former publisher, Knight Landesman, whom curator and art fair director Amanda Schmitt claimed had sexually harassed her via “unwelcome physical contact and repulsive written and oral demands for intimacy” while she was an employee at the magazine.
Margaret L. Watson, a lawyer for Landesman, confirmed the news and declined to comment. Artforum said today in a statement, “Despite the fact that the lawsuit has been dismissed, we remain firm in our commitment to create a safe and equitable workplace for our employees and associates.”
Emily Reisbaum, a lawyer representing Schmitt, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Schmitt’s case against Artforum and Landesman was filed in October 2017. The case accused the magazine of knowingly allowing Landesman’s harassment of Schmitt and several other female employees, and alleged that Artforum had threatened retaliation against them. At the time, Schmitt’s legal team was seeking compensatory damages of $500,000 plus attorneys’ fees and punitive damages. Since then, the case has become one of the most high-profile filings related to the #MeToo movement in the art world.
The suit also alleged that Landesman had publicly called Schmitt a liar in 2017, slandering her. Eight other women’s claims were included in the suit, though Schmitt was the only party bringing the suit against Landesman and Artforum International Magazine, Inc. In a prior statement, Artforum’s publishers said, “Artforum does not tolerate this kind of behavior in the workplace.”
In the ruling dated December 24, 2018, Judge Frank P. Nervo outlined his reasons for dismissing the case, saying, in part, that the suit had failed to meet the requirements for causes of action. Alleged instances of slander by Landesman could not be considered as such, the decision states, and it adds at one point, “There are no facts alleged in the complaint that show how a person would be discouraged from making a complaint of wrongful conduct when a person could not perceive any connection between the alleged wrongful conduct, both defendants’ denial of culpability, and plaintiff’s prior employment, as this nexus does not exist.”
And, the ruling notes, though Artforum may have allegedly promised to take action against Landesman once its publishers were made aware of Schmitt’s accusations, “the complaint does not state what that action might have been,” which, according to the ruling, does not offer enough proof that she could have relied on their words.
After the allegations against him were first reported by Artnet News, Landesman resigned as publisher of the magazine. That same day, ARTnews reported that Michelle Kuo had earlier tendered her resignation as editor-in-chief of Artforum over the company’s handling of the allegations. (Kuo was later hired as a curator of painting and sculpture by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. David Velasco is now editor-in-chief of the magazine.)
Schmitt, who is currently a director of the Untitled art fair, began working as a circulation assistant at Artforum in September 2009. According to the suit, Landesman sometimes invited Schmitt to his office and asked her about her sex life. “Landesman’s conduct was so widely accepted in the office that it was often discussed and met simply with eye rolling and comments such as, ‘well, that’s just how Knight is,’ ” the suit read. The filing went on to allege that Landesman had continued to harass Schmitt after she left the magazine in 2012, penning emails and text messages that included explicit language and urging her to accept his advances for “the benefit of your relationship with everyone, collectors, people, power, even those most important to you.”
In 2016, according to the suit, Schmitt approached two Artforum publishers, Charles Guarino and Danielle McConnell, and told them of Landesman’s alleged misconduct. The legal filing said that Guarino told her the magazine would be “taking action to insure that whatever may have transpired never happens again.”
After the case was filed, Artforum positioned itself as a separate entity from Landesman. “Artforum is responding separately to the lawsuit only on behalf of the magazine,” a representative for Artforum told ARTnews in December 2017. “The magazine will not protect or defend Landesman.” Landesman’s legal team said that “the only ‘conduct’ engaged in by Landesman . . . was his general denial of Schmitt’s claim.”
Several months after Landesman resigned, Hyperallergic reported that Landesman was still a co-owner of the magazine. In response, the activist group We Are Not Surprised, which has addressed art-world instances of sexual harassment, penned a letter to Artforum in which it urged the publication to break with Landesman entirely. “We’re tired of the sweet talk and empty politics,” the group wrote. “Show us that you mean what you say in print. Until then, we won’t be having any of it.”
In a statement at the time, Artforum said, “Regrettably, there are no legal means by which Artforum can simply divest him of his shares, though the company is actively engaged in the process of recovering them.” Guarino told ARTnews today it is still seeking to divest Landesman of his stake in the company.