Jenny Holzer is one of the signatories of the letter and her work provided the inspiration for the #notsurprised hashtag Photo: Annie Tritt
More than 200 artists, writers, curators and other workers of the art world who have been “groped, undermined, infantilised, scorned, threatened and intimidated” have signed a letter against sexual harassment.
Signatories include the photographer Cindy Sherman, the art dealers Sadie Coles and Barbara Gladstone, the design critic Alice Rawsthorn and the Hammer Museum’s chief curator Connie Butler.
The open letter, which comes after the resignation last week of the long-time publisher of Artforum, Knight Landesman, who is accused in a lawsuit of sexual harassment, has been signed by a further 2,000 people and shared on social media platforms using the hashtag #notsurprised. The campaign takes its title from a 1982 “Truism” work by Jenny Holzer, who has also signed the letter.
The letter calls on arts organisations to take action and sack offenders. “The resignation of one publisher from one high-profile magazine does not solve the larger, more insidious problem: an art world that upholds inherited power structures at the cost of ethical behaviour. Similar abuses occur frequently and internationally on a large scale within this industry.
“We have been silenced, ostracised, apathologized, dismissed as ‘overreacting’, and threatened when we have tried to expose sexually and emotionally abusive behaviour. We will be silenced no longer.”
The campaign was hatched over the weekend after a group of women began to have conversations about sexual harassment on the Whatsapp messenger app. “It began from discussions on social media between colleagues initially about how to react to the Artforum situation. We were concerned about how it was being dealt with and about accountability,” Sarah McCrory, the director of the Centre for Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths, told the Guardian newspaper.
The letter carries a link to an Artforum article that says the magazine is “creating a special task force of women” to transform the organisation “into a place of transparency, equity, and with zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any kind”.
The signatories rebuff this position, saying: “We will not join ‘task forces’ to solve a problem that is perpetrated upon us. We provide a ‘definition of sexual harassment’ for those who may feel powerless so that they may point to a document that supports a safe work environment for all.”
The writer Valerie Werder, who is one of the women named in the lawsuit against Landesman and was instrumental in creating the letter, has chosen to speak out publicly. She told the Guardian: “Artforum’s response was something that I couldn’t support. It wasn’t enough and I was very disappointed as it seemed to absolve the responsibility I thought Artforum should take.”
“What started as an original group of people to discuss this specific case became a really strong collective of voices around the world that wanted to make active change, stand up for victims and show acts of solidarity.”