Art world shaken by sexual misconduct allegations

As allegations of sexual harassment surface in Hollywood, similar accusations have begun to be levied in the art world. Last Monday’s Guardian newspaper (30 October) featured a letter penned by over 150 artists, curators and museum directors condemning ‘sexually and emotionally abusive behaviour’ by powerful art industry figures. Its authors write that they are ‘not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favors’ nor when ‘gallerists hide sexually abusive behavior by artists they represent’.

Among the most high-profile signatories to the letter are Turner Prize-winning artist Helen Marten, New York photographer Cindy Sherman and White Cube Director Susanna Greeves. Drafted on the back of a Whatsapp conversation among women in the arts sector about sexual harassment the letter also constituted a response to the recent resignation of Artforum’s Knight Landesman. The co-publisher of the prominent arts journal resigned on Wednesday 25 October after he was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in New York by a former employee.

As of 3:00pm on Monday 30 October over 5000 people had signed their name to the ‘Not Surprised’ letter forcing its online administrators to close it to further signatures. The letter’s authors also caution that Landesman’s resignation should not be viewed as a panacea for a ‘larger, more insidious problem: an art world that upholds inherited power structures at the cost of ethical behavior’.

In other news, the death of feminist art historian, Linda Nochlin, was announced last Sunday (29 October). Author of the landmark 1971 essay ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’, Nochlin explored the ideological barriers and power structures in society inhibiting female progress in the arts for centuries.

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