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  • Oct 30, 2023

Artforum Fires Chief Editor After Open Letter Controversy

Cover of Artforum magazine, May 2019. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

Shock waves were sent through the art world October 26 after Artforum fired editor-in-chief David Velasco, ending his six-year tenure at the helm of the magazine. The news came one week after Artforum shared a controversial, yet widely signed open letter demanding a ceasefire in Gaza without explicitly condemning Hamas’s October 7 attack. Although the open letter stated that it “reject[s] violence against all civilians, regardless of their identity,” many interpreted its rhetoric as one-sided, instigating a backlash from the Israeli art community and beyond.

Artforum publishers Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza subsequently responded to the criticism by posting a statement on the magazine’s website, clarifying that the October 19 open letter on “highly sensitive and complex geopolitical circumstances” was not written by Artforum and that it had “put members of our team in the untenable position of being represented by a statement that was not uniformly theirs.” The publishers did concede, however, that the letter was a “meaningful expression of advocacy from a large group of people in our community.” 

Velasco, who signed the original letter, told the New York Times via email that he has “no regrets” and is “disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.” Inside pressure, however, may have had more to do with Velasco’s fate. On October 26, The Intercept reported that Velasco had been brought before Jay Penske, founder of American corporate giant Penske Media and parent company of Artforum. Velasco was let go just hours later.

In the following days, four of Velasco’s colleagues at Artforum stepped down—including associate editor Kate Sutton, senior editors Zack Hatfield and Chloe Wyma, and London-based international contributor Emily LaBarge—taking to X to announce their resignations. Hatfield wrote that Velasco’s firing is “unacceptable and bodes ominously for the future of the magazine,” while Wyma remarked that it “violates everything I had cherished about [Artforum] and makes my work there untenable.” Influential artists such as Nan Goldin and Nicole Eisenman have spoken out against the firing and vowed not to work with Artforum in future.

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