Calls to Boycott Artforum Resurface Amid Rumored Palestine Edition

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, is urging Artforum contributors to boycott the arts publication following rumors about a planned “Palestine-themed” summer issue.

In a statement on X yesterday, May 23, the Palestinian-led group called on all writers, artists, and editors to refuse to participate in the upcoming issue, calling it “nothing more than a fig-leaf for [Artforum‘s] serious anti-Palestinian repression.”

An Artforum spokesperson told Hyperallergic that while the upcoming issue is set to feature the portfolios of two Palestinian-American artists, it is “not a themed issue.”

The announcement marks another chapter in the turmoil that has shaken the Penske Media-owned art publication since Israel’s assault on Gaza began in October 2023. An October 19 open letter advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza resulted in the firing of the publication’s Editor-in-Chief David Velasco, who was among the letter’s signatories, and prompted several counter-letters by Israeli artists, curators, and their supporters. Subsequently, more than 700 previous contributors committed to withdrawing their participation in the magazine and sister publications Artnews and Art in America by signing a boycott open letter. (Artforum’s spokesperson said that “it is not accurate that 700 ‘previous contributors’ have withdrawn their participation” and that the majority of the magazine’s contributors continue to write for them.)

Jay Penske, the CEO of Penske Media Group, has also faced criticism for accepting a $200 million investment from the Saudi Research and Media Group. Jay Penske is the son of Roger Penske, a Trump donor, though his own political affiliations are unclear.

Yesterday’s boycott announcement from PACBI cited Velasco’s firing, characterizing the incident as “shameful repression” that reflects a broader “pervasive anti-Palestinian censorship and McCarthyism sweeping the US.” It further criticizes Artforum’s lack of apology over the situation and urges others to “[respect] the picket line drawn by hundreds of previous contributors.”

“As things continue to get worse for the people of Palestine in Gaza and elsewhere, this moment is an essential one for reminding people of why it’s important not just to speak, but to act, and sometimes acting is withholding one’s own speech,” Tobi Haslett, a former Artforum contributor, told Hyperallergic, adding that he is “proud to have been a signatory of the [original] boycott letter” and has since ceased all communication with the magazine and other publications owned by Penske Media.

Los Angeles-based artist Saj Issa, whose family originates from Ramallah, Palestine, told Hyperallergic that she encourages everyone to read the magazine’s upcoming issue, which she says will include her personal experiences as an artist and how she strives to continue her practice “amid military occupation in the West Bank.”

“The demands of editorial freedom were met through working with the editors at Artforum, and I put a lot of thought into my contribution,” Issa continued, adding that she urges “every Palestinian, whether they be in Palestine or in the diaspora, to take opportunities to tell their stories — as they are important to bring to light the realities we live through.”

On top of the boycott, Velasco’s firing was met with the resignation of at least four Artforum editors including senior editors Zack Hatfield and Chloe Wyma; freelance editor Emily LaBarge; and associate editor Kate Sutton.

Tina Rivers Ryan, a former curator at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum whose areas of focus include AI and NFTs, has since taken over the position of editor-in-chief at the magazine. This afternoon, pro-Palestine group Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG) released a public letter to Ryan, decrying her involvement in “Scabforum” in the wake of Velasco’s termination.

“You were hired because he was fired for supporting Palestinian liberation,” the letter reads, calling her a “scab for empire and for corporate media” and further encouraging writers to abide by the PACBI-BDS boycott. Hyperallergic has reached out to Ryan for comment.

“Whatever new changes to the editorial masthead, the owners and publishers of Artforum remain the same. And crucially, over the past six months, they have failed to take any accountability for their actions,” Sutton told Hyperallergic, criticizing the magazine’s alleged “doubling down” on a narrative of “editorial protocol” to rationalize Velasco’s firing. On October 25, the magazine’s publisher released a statement saying that the publication of the October 19 open letter was “not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process.”

“It’s disappointing to think that new staff would so readily buy into the idea that my colleagues and I would give up our dream jobs over ‘protocol,’ just as it is disappointing to see writers actively undermine the solidarity of their fellow writers by contributing to a publication that is under boycott,” Sutton said.

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