Liam Davis  for Artery Magazine

Scrolling Instagram this morning I notices a Post by the artist William Powhida feature the cover of the current Artforum and accompanied by a quote from Julia Bryan-Wilson said “There is a before and there is an after in the art world.”
Thinking on the meaning I concluded that Julia was referring to the current state of Artform. I then perused the current issue of Artforum and was taken back by how little recent content had been created.  November of 2023  documents a shift in the publications tone. Clearly this historic titan of art criticism is currently a shadow of its former self. But is it a ghost ship adrift at sea?

Zachary Small’s New York Times article from December 7th, titled “Bruised by War-Related Boycott, Artforum Seeks a Reset” chronicles the event that led this storied institution to its current state. This article explores the repercussions and challenges faced by Artforum, an influential art magazine, following the abrupt firing of its editor-in-chief, David Velasco. The catalyst for Velasco’s dismissal was an open letter the magazine published regarding the Israel-Hamas war, expressing support for Palestinian liberation and initially omitting mention of victims in the Hamas attack on October 7.

The aftermath of Velasco’s firing saw a significant response from within the magazine’s editorial team. At least six members resigned, and nearly 600 writers, including prominent figures like Jennifer Krasinski, Claire Bishop, John Waters, Meg Onli, and Gordon Hall, initiated a boycott of Artforum and its affiliated publications such as ARTnews and Art in America. Contributors, unhappy with the magazine’s handling of the open letter and its editorial decisions, requested the removal of their articles from the December issue.

The December issue, titled “Year in Review,” faced challenges in its production, with a reduced editorial team working under time constraints. The magazine, usually robust in content, became noticeably slimmer, featuring 150 pages of articles and advertisements, approximately one-third smaller than the previous December issue.

Artforum, with around 30,000 print subscribers and approximately 8.3 million annual page views, is navigating a critical period as it attempts to reset its direction. The publishers, Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza, acknowledged the loss of valued colleagues and expressed a need for reflection on Artforum’s role in times of humanitarian crisis in a note within the December issue.

Jay Penske, the CEO of Penske Media, which owns Artforum, Rolling Stone, and Variety, defended the decision to part ways with Velasco in a statement published in the magazine. Penske emphasized Artforum’s history of advocacy and commitment to being a platform for debate and discourse, asserting that under Penske Media’s ownership, this tradition would continue.

To say that  not everyone is satisfied with Artforum’s response to the situation would be an understatement. Velasco criticized Penske Media for underestimating the magazine’s readership and suggested that the provided explanations may not be sufficient to restore faith in Artforum’s credibility.

The article delves into the history of Artforum, established in 1962, as a significant voice shaping American postwar art and its evolution under different editorial leadership. Velasco, who took over in 2017, had aimed to restore the magazine’s reputation, particularly in the aftermath of sexual harassment allegations against its longtime publisher, Knight Landesman.

The controversy surrounding Artforum’s open letter on the Israel-Hamas conflict resulted in a backlash from large galleries, with some, including David Zwirner, deciding to pull advertisements. The disagreement over the magazine’s editorial stance also sparked discussions about censorship in the art world, with curators and artists reporting job losses and exhibition cancellations for expressing support for Palestinian causes.

The broader implications of the Artforum controversy extend beyond the magazine itself. Pro-Palestinian protests in New York have referenced the magazine, and incidents of vandalism have occurred, such as the defacement of the storefront belonging to gallerists Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Amalia Dayan.

As Artforum grapples with its future, a majority of authors featured in the November issue continue to boycott the magazine. The situation underscores broader challenges in the art world surrounding free speech, political opinions, and the intersection of art and geopolitical conflicts.

In its current incarnation Artforum is not so much reborn but in a state of rebuild. Buying time for what it will be next.
This is not the “after” state that Julia Bryan-Wilson  is speak of. It’s not  yet a rebirth, For now it’s just a reset.


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