Artforum magazine has reached a settlement with former staffer Amanda Schmitt, bringing an end to a long legal dispute over allegations that former co-publisher Knight Landesman sexually harassed Schmitt and numerous other women.
Schmitt accused the magazine of retaliation, defamation, and slander after she spoke out against Landesman. The case against both Landesman and the publication were initially dismissed in January 2019, but upon appeal Schmitt was allowed to continue to pursue two of her claims against the magazine (though not Landesman himself).
“The leadership of Artforum and Amanda Schmitt have worked to achieve a resolution of the lawsuit filed in October 2017. Both parties wish to move forward with a spirit of good will,” the magazine said in a statement on its website on Friday.
The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed. Schmitt, who is now a director at New York’s Kaufmann Repetto gallery, was initially seeking $500,000 in damages.
“I am pleased that my case against Artforum has been resolved to my satisfaction,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Whilst this has been a long and challenging chapter in my life, I know I did what is right, I feel I have contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, and I will continue to be committed to feminist ideals.”
Artnet News first reported the sexual misconduct allegations against Landesman in October 2017, after which at least 21 women came forward in the months that followed. Landesman resigned the day after the story broke and Schmitt brought her lawsuit, ending a more than 35-year run as co-publisher, a title he shared with Tony Korner, Charles Guarino, and Danielle McConnell.
In response to the allegations, Artforum‘s publishers told Artnet News that Schmitt’s claims of harassment were “unfounded” and “an attempt to exploit a relationship that she herself worked hard to create and maintain.” The magazine claimed it was “at no time… complicit or culpable.”
But internal emails that have come to light during the legal discovery show a very different conversation happening among the magazine’s senior staff. Months before the publishers made those statements about Schmitt to Artnet News, in August 2017, Guarino wrote in an email to Korner: “I remember standing in Danielle [McConnell]’s office two years ago, and telling Knight (knowing nothing of Amanda at the time) that his behavior toward women had to stop, to change. It could really hurt all of us, I asserted. He became angry, clenched his fists. ‘I’m never going to stop. Never,’ he said.”
Guarino continued: “Rereading Amanda’s notes, I’m reminded of Knight saying that she owed him ‘compliments,’ and that he deserved them. Seeing just how complimentary they were, I know now that it was just a euphemism for sexual favors, as if that wasn’t obvious enough.”
The next day, Korner responded: “My anger and disgust have receded. I’ve reached the stage of resignation and acceptance. Knight promises that there are no other women to come forward,” he said. “There’s no point in recriminations or ostracizing Knight. He has an important job bringing in the revenue by which we continue to exist.”
As the case entered discovery in 2020, Schmitt’s legal team attempted to depose Guarino, who was also a member of the magazine’s board “and therefore required” to do so, according to a memo filed by Schmitt’s attorneys. But Guarino, who lives in Italy, then left the board, which meant he could no longer be compelled to testify.
The court records also show emails from Korner to Landesman from that same August. “I would strongly advise you against canvassing support among your friends or revealing anything about Amanda’s lawsuit against you and Artforum,” he wrote in August. “You will damage your reputation and ours by publicizing it.”
The month before, Korner had reprimanded Landesman for using a company check to pay for therapy that the publishers demanded in 2016 to address his inappropriate behavior toward women.
“The unpleasant situation you find yourself in is entirely of your making and the payments to your therapist must be entirely your responsibility,” Korner said. “In addition there are going to be large legal fees and possible compensation.”
After the allegations against Landesman were made public, editor-in-chief Michelle Kuo resigned and 39 staff members published a letter condemning Landesman’s behavior and the response from the other publishers.
Nevertheless, Artforum continued to deny prior knowledge of Landesman’s behavior. “Ms. Schmitt’s complaint was the first and only one made to us about Mr. Landesman by a current or former employee, or industry colleague,” the publishers told Artnet News in December 2017, as the magazine moved to dismiss the lawsuit.
Schmitt worked at the magazine from 2009 to 2012 as an intern and a circulation assistant, where she claims she was subject to unwanted touching and sexual comments from Landesman. TIME magazine named her, along with other “Silence Breakers” who spoke out about sexual harassment, one of its 2017 people of the year.
“Amanda is a remarkable person who stood up to powerful forces,” Schmitt’s lawyer, Emily Reisbaum of New York firm Clarick Gueron Reisbaum, told Artnet News in an email. “Her brave actions have already helped many women, and will help many more in the future.”
Due to the five-year statute of limitations on sexual harassment, Schmitt was unable to pursue those claims against Landesman. Schmitt contended that Artforum had not only failed to protect her from Landesman’s advances, but went on to disparage her to the press after she spoke out.
Even after his resignation, Landesman continued to be a partial owner of Artforum as recently as February of 2018. Following news of the settlement, a magazine representative told Hyperallergic that Landesman is “no longer an Artforum shareholder.”
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