One of the art world’s top magazine editors was fired Thursday night after the publishers of Artforum said that the staff’s decision to post an open letter about the Israel-Hamas War failed to meet the organization’s standards.
The editor in chief, David Velasco, said he had been terminated after six years as Artforum’s leader. He had worked at the publication, considered among the world’s most prestigious art magazines, since 2005.
“I have no regrets,” Velasco said in an email. “I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.”
Thousands of artists, academics and cultural workers, including Velasco, signed the Oct. 19 open letter, which supported Palestinian liberation and criticized the silence of cultural institutions about the Israeli bombing of residents in Gaza.
The letter initially omitted mention of Hamas’s surprise Oct. 7 attack, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis, information that was added after criticism from subscribers and advertisers. A preface was also added to say that the letter “reflects the views of the undersigned individual parties and was not composed, directed or initiated by Artforum or its staff.”
It is not clear who wrote the letter. In it, the signatories “call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians, an immediate cease-fire, 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 magazine’s publishers, Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a post on the magazine’s website Thursday evening, they criticized the decision as “not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process.” The letter “was widely misinterpreted as a statement from the magazine about highly sensitive and complex geopolitical circumstances,” they said in the post, which made no mention of Velasco’s termination.
“Our publication has a proud history of advocacy,” they added. “That the letter was misinterpreted as being reflective of the magazine’s position understandably led to significant dismay among our readers and community, which we deeply regret.”
The Oct. 19 open letter met condemnation, drawing responses by figures in the art world. On WhatsApp, campaigns were organized to dissuade advertisers from working with the magazine.
“I think it was a complete betrayal of their readers,” Michael Phillips Moskowitz, a curator and collector, said. “It was characterized by hubris with no understanding of what led to this moment.”
Several prominent artists later removed their names from the Oct. 19 letter, but it remained popular among many of the people who signed it, including those who said that the intention was to advocate peace.
“Tampering with the opinions of artists is to not understand the role of art,” said Cecilia Vicuña, a Chilean poet and artist who signed the letter, adding that she valued “the right to freedom of speech.”
Velasco joined Artforum in 2005 as an editorial assistant and became editor in chief in 2017 when the magazine’s leadership was accused of ignoring issues of misconduct amid a sexual harassment lawsuit against its publisher at the time, Knight Landesman. The lawsuit was later dismissed, but Velasco had to rebuild trust in the publication’s brand. He was largely successful, restoring Artforum’s reputation as an authoritative source of art world intrigue and criticism.
Before Velasco was fired, some artists defended him in a letter to Jay Penske, the mogul behind Penske Media Corporation, which recently acquired Artforum, saying that Velasco had “established a fearless and uncompromising vision for the magazine.”
“David’s leadership at Artforum is needed now more than ever,” the letter said.