After a call for a ceasefire in Gaza signed by thousands of artists appeared on its website, Artforum has fired its top editor, David Velasco, claiming that the publication of the letter did not meet its editorial standards. His firing was first reported by the New York Times.
The letter, which went live on October 19, also appeared in e-flux and Hyperallergic, and had circulated as a Google document before it was published on those websites and Artforum. Velasco, along with several other members of Artforum’s staff, signed the letter.
“We support Palestinian liberation and call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians, an immediate ceasefire, the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the end of the complicity of our governing bodies in grave human rights violations and war crimes,” the letter reads.
In a statement posted to the publication’s website, Artforum publishers Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza wrote, “On Thursday, October 19, an open letter regarding the crisis in the Middle East was shared on Artforum’s website and social platforms without our, or the requisite senior members of the editorial team’s, prior knowledge. This was not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process. Had the appropriate members of the editorial team been consulted, the letter would have been presented as a news item with the relevant context.”
They noted their dismay over both the Hamas attack and the resultant “destruction and suffering” in Gaza, and said that the letter had put some members of the Artforum team in the “untenable position of being represented by a statement that was not uniformly theirs.” (Not all of the Artforum editorial masthead signed the letter.)
Velasco, who became editor in 2017, told the Times, “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.”
Since the Artforum letter was published, it has gone through several shifts and spurred a counter-letter that was also signed by many.
After its initial publication, the Artforum letter continued to change. Italicized text noting that the letter “was not composed, directed, or initiated by Artforum or its staff” appeared at the top, some names came off, and a bolded addition about “revulsion at the horrific massacres of 1400 people in Israel conducted by Hamas on October 7th,” which previously went unmentioned, was placed at the bottom, ahead of the signatories. An Instagram from the Artforum account that advertised the article has since been deleted.
In response to the letter, dealers Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Amalia Dayan penned a short response published by Artforum in which they wrote that they “condemn the open letter for its one-sided view.” The letter, they said, “does not acknowledge the ongoing mass hostage emergency, the historical context, and the atrocities committed in Israel on October 7, 2023—the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust.” Only after the dealers’ statement was the addition about the Hamas attack made.
Both letters now refer to the October 7 attack in which Hamas killed 1,400 Israelis and took around 200 more hostage. Since that attack, Israel has led repeated airstrikes on Gaza, killing around 6,700 people, according to the local health ministry.
Velasco was fired a couple days after high-profile dealers, artists, and more signed a letter that referred to “an uninformed letter signed by artists who do not represent the artistic community at large” without naming Artforum. This new letter, titled “A United Call from the Art World: Advocating for Humanity,” did refer to the Hamas attack, but it did not specifically mention the thousands of Gazans who have since been killed.
“We firmly believe in the transformative power of art to heal, inspire, and bridge divides. Our community must utilize this strength in fostering empathy and unity for all of the innocent civilians—both Israeli and Palestinian—tragically affected by the heinous actions of Hamas,” the “Unity” letter reads. “Unequivocally, all of us should stand united in opposing acts of terrorism and instead advocate for humanity.”
Penske Media Corporation, which owns both ARTnews and Artforum, did not respond to a request for comment. ARTnews has reached out to Velasco for comment.