Artforum Staff Speaks Out After Firing of Editor Following Gaza Letter: ‘No Desire to Shut Down Conversations’

The editorial staff of Artforum issued a statement Wednesday in response to the firing of editor David Velasco, marking the first time that the magazine’s editors have publicly addressed the situation since it was reported in the New York Times nearly two weeks ago.

Velasco was reportedly fired after Artforum published a letter that called for a ceasefire in Gaza and Palestinian liberation. (The letter also appeared in e-flux and Hyperallergic, and as a since-deleted Google document.) Signed by thousands of well-known artists—as well as Velasco and other Artforum staffers—and published on October 19, the letter was met with scrutiny in some corners because it initially failed to note the October 7 attack by Hamas that killed 1,400 Israelis and the taking of around 200 people as hostages.

Mention of that attack was ultimately added days after publication, as was a line at the top, noting that the letter “reflects the views of the undersigned individual parties and was not composed, directed, or initiated by Artforum or its staff.”

Just before the New York Times published its report on Velasco’s firing on October 26, Artforum’s publishers, Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza, released a statement on the magazine’s website, saying that printing the letter was “not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process” because the article “was shared on Artforum’s website and social platforms without our, or the requisite senior members of the editorial team’s, prior knowledge.” Velasco disputed this in a Vanity Fair report that ran last week, saying that while there were “precedents” that the senior editors followed, but that there was no “codified editorial protocol.”

After Velasco was fired, four Artforum staffers resigned, with former senior editors Zack Hatfield and Chloe Wyma publicly denouncing the magazine on social media. And, in the following days, a boycott circulated in which hundreds of Artforum contributors past and present said they would no longer contribute to the magazine or to ARTnews and Art in America, which are also owned by Penske Media Corporation.

Wednesday’s statement, which was signed by more than 30 Artforum editors and published on the magazine’s website, made a plea for an open dialogue and editorial freedom. It acknowledged “that faith in our integrity needs to be restored, and trust rebuilt,” and called the firing “unexpected.”

The statement was signed by most of the editorial masthead, including its managing editor and its executive editors. It was not, however, signed by the publishers.

“As discourse becomes increasingly polarized,” the statement reads, “the publication of carefully edited, historically informed, and factually accurate criticism that draws on a range of international perspectives remains our goal.”

Linking out to the open letter itself, the editors continued, “We have no desire to shut down conversations around the October 19 open letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. We are committed to defending political expression, debate, editorial freedom, and independence.”

Since the publication of the original cease-fire letter, the death count in Gaza has risen as Israeli forces continue to mount airstrikes and make ground incursions, and as they have cut off water and power, generating what many have called a humanitarian crisis. According to the Gazan health ministry, more than 10,000 people have been killed as a result.

A representative for Penske Media Corporation declined to comment.

In the Vanity Fair article, a spokesperson for the company echoed the language of the Artforum publishers’ statement, saying, “The open letter on Artforum, while a meaningful expression of advocacy, lacked necessary context when originally published, making it unclear that it originated from outside of Artforum. Senior members of the editorial department were not consulted prior to its publication. This is not consistent with the company’s editorial process when individual editors are actively involved in the content they are covering.”

The PMC spokesperson continued, “Artforum has a proud history of advocacy and being a platform that inspires debate and discourse. To say there is an issue of censorship while the letter still remains on the site today is plainly wrong. The misinterpretation of the letter as being reflective of the magazine’s position was equally unfortunate. It put all members of the Artforum team in the position of being represented by a single statement that was not uniformly their own.”