Apollo Magazine

Artforum editor fired over publication of open letter about Gaza

Plus: Robert Irwin (1928–2023), Italy appoints right-wing journalist as Venice Biennale director and the rest of the week’s top stories

David Velasco. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images for Fondazione Prada

The editor-in-chief of Artforum, David Velasco, has been fired a week after the online publication of an open letter about the situation in Gaza, on 19 October. The letter calls for humanitarian aid, accountability for war crimes and a ceasefire, while condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It was also published by e-flux and hyperallergic, but the Artforum version was soon accompanied by wording that none of the magazine’s staff had organised it. On 20 October, the art dealers Brett Gorvy, Dominique Levy and Amalia Dayan wrote a reply, also published on the magazine’s website, which expressed distress that the letter had not condemned Hamas’s atrocities of 7 October. More than 30 artists out of the 8,000 signatories – including Peter Doig, Joan Jonas, Katharina Grosse and Tomás Saraceno – have since taken their names off the statement. On 26 October, Artforum’s publishers explained that the publication of the letter ‘was not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process’ and that it should have been ‘presented as a news item with the relevant context’. Velasco leaves Artforum after 18 years, six of which he spent as editor. In an email to the New York Times, he wrote, ‘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.’

Robert Irwin, one of the most influential artists associated with the Light and Space movement of the 1960s, has died at the age of 95. The Californian artist began his career producing Abstract Expressionist paintings, but soon abandoned picture-making to focus his attention on creating the ephemeral art environments for which he is best known today. Although his early works were not widely seen by the public (he didn’t allow his installations to be photographed until the late 1970s), these explorations of human perception were widely admired within the contemporary art world. In 2015, the artist spoke to Apollo about the importance of making beautiful pieces and why art should have nothing to do with politics; read Jonathan Griffin’s interview here.

The controversial deaccession and sale of a still life by Paul Cézanne owned by the Langmatt Foundation will proceed, following a restitution agreement reached between the institution and the heirs of its formerowner. Researchers at Christie’s New York discovered that the painting had once belonged to the art dealer Jacob Goldschmidt, who sold it under duress in 1933, after laws targeting Jews had rendered him unable to work. A settlement between the Langmatt Foundation and the heirs of Jacob Goldschmidt has now been reached and the sale will proceed as planned on 9 November. Earlier this month, the foundation was criticised by figures in the museum sector for its decision to sell three Cézanne paintings from the collection, housed in the Villa Langmatt in Baden, in order to prevent bankruptcy.

The right-wing journalist and author Pietrangelo Buttafuoco has been designated the next president of the Venice Biennale by the Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano. The appointment is waiting to be confirmed by the Senate and House of Deputies. The news, later confirmed by Sangiuliano, was first revealed on 26 October via a note circulated to the press in which a member of the Brothers of Italy party (part of the ruling coalition), stated: ‘The left thought of the Biennale Foundation as a fiefdom where it could place friends and acolytes. Buttafuoco represents the kind of sea change the Meloni government wants to extend to every cultural and social institution in the nation’. Buttafuoco is the former leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement party and the author of books including Blessed is He: A Paean to the Arch-Italian Silvio Berlusconi (2023). The Biennale’s current president, Roberto Cicutto, will step down in March 2024 at the end of his term.

The Art Newspaper has been sold to the Hong Kong financial services conglomerate AMTD Group by the Russian collector Inna Bazhenova, who had owned the London- and New York-based publication since 2014. Calvin Choi, chairman of AMTD, will also chair the paper; he plans to move its main office to Paris to increase its presence in France. Alison Cole, who had served as editor-in-chief of TAN for the past five and a half years, announced that she was leaving the role earlier this month.

Ann Philbin is stepping down as the director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in November 2024, after 25 years in the role. Philbin came to the Hammer in January 1999, after nine years as director of the Drawing Center in New York. Under her leadership, the museum has become the go-to destination for contemporary art in Los Angeles and an important platform for emerging and underappreciated artists. She has overseen an ambitious 25-year renovation project and expanded its budget from $6 million to $30 million and its endowment from $35 million to more than $125 million.

Jill Medvedow will also leave her post as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in 2024. When Medvedow joined the ICA in the late 1990s it lacked a permanent collection and welcomed just 10,000 annual visitors. Under her leadership, in 2006, the museum relocated to a new home designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and in 2018 it opened a second location, ICA Watershed, on the other side of the Boston Harbor. Medvedow has also made significant efforts to elevate the work of women and female-identifying artists who now account for 60 per cent of the museum’s collection.

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