Louise Blouin — MeToo — OpEd
Since October 2017 and the start of the #Me Too movement, I have felt connected to the plight of women who have been harassed and sexually abused. This abuse, as evidenced in the actions of Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose — to name only two — hit home for me not only because of my own experiences of harassment perpetrated by the New York Post journalist Keith Kelly, but also because a former employee, Benjamin Genocchio, was at the center of a sexual harassment scandal after he left my company for Artnet… And it doesn’t end there.
Why has it taken me so long to speak out? Perhaps I have not had the courage, or it was due to my upbringing, when I was taught to proudly endure any curves or hardships that life may throw at you; or it was because as a company owner, successful entrepreneur and philanthropist — who has given resources of time and money to the arts — I felt that I was not entitled to speak, to convey my story. However, out of respect and solidarity with those in the #MeToo movement, and of the art world’s equivalent #Not Surprised movement, I now feel that it is my duty to speak and offer my support to other victims of abuse.
Since 2002 I have been the object of obsession by Kelly, who has over this period written 52 — yes 52 articles — about me in the pages of the New York Post, most of which display an unbalanced approach with an aim toward harming to my business and reputation. At one point in the early stages of this history of sexual harassment, I agreed to meet with Kelly at his restaurant of choice, Michael’s, in an effort to understand his motives, and to try to reason with him to temper his negative views and misleading reporting on my company. At this meeting when I asked Kelly why he would continually write such negative articles about me, he said if he wrote positive stories then he would not get my attention; and that he was infatuated with and crazy about me. Since that meeting, however, he has only continued to write in a derisive fashion at every opportunity. It is truly remarkable and frankly sick that Kelly writes 98 percent of the time about Fortune 500 companies, and then, writes about me and my company.
This pattern of unethical behavior has extended to his efforts to harass journalists who work for me, collude with former employees to further disparage me, and even to frighten me, sending SMS messages that he was coming by my home as if he was invited, or coming to my office unannounced — in attempts to intimidate and be a hostile presence in my life. You may read this and say I should regard even negative press as good press, or heed the First Amendment and acknowledge that in a democracy, the freedom of the press is a vital standard. I ask, however, what is the value of 52 poorly written articles about me, that contain only negative connotations over the better part of a decade? This is not what I call journalistic integrity.
Kelly also played a role in a separate effort to damage my reputation, when he quoted former editor Benjamin Genocchio, in a negative article about my company. Genocchio left the company to join Artnet after being placed on notice of termination. Upon joining Artnet, Genocchio told the Post that his aim was to “drive Louise out of business.” He also poached a great number of employees to join him at Artnet — and turned loyal consultants of over 10 years against the company and its interests — referring to former sales staff as his new “breadwinners,” while he took knowledge of our business and our online platform to a direct competitor. Genocchio also stated to the Post that the reason he left my company was that he was tired of “all of my nonsense,” but in fact it was Genocchio who was running away from a managerial mess that he created himself with then-president Ben Hartley — a mess that has taken significant efforts to clean up. This movement of executives occurred at a time as well, when I uncovered a major fraud in the company, again connected to the poor management, as I was forced to take control of daily operations of the company. When I warned the leadership of Artnet in 2014 about Genocchio’s character, I was quickly discounted. Chairman Hans Neuendorf and CEO Jacob Pabst said that Genocchio was well worth the investment, because according to Hans Neuendorf, he was “bringing in the dough.”
As an aside, this period which witnessed the departure of Benjamin Genocchio to Artnet, also saw the then President Ben Hartley leave for another German art platform called Auctionata — both of which were close contacts and involved the coordination of former sales representative, Bill Fine. Here Hartley was given the leadership position at their New York office in order to build a local auction presence for the start-up. In order to facilitate success for Auctionata, Hartley, like Genocchio began hiring away employees from my company, taking not only multiple staff members with him, but know-how and expertise. Between Genocchio and Hartley, 30 percent of my company’s staff was taken. Auctionata closed its New York office due to cost overruns some 10 months later, terminating Hartley in the process. It eventually went bankrupt 12 months after this date; this chain of events shows not only the ill-character of these executives, but their “boys club” mentality.
Tragically this approach toward Genocchio had consequences because he was found to be at the center of a sexual harassment scandal primarily during his time at Artnet, as reported by the NY Times reporter Robin Pogrebin in November 2017. What is incredible about that article is not merely the fact that Genocchio was the perpetrator of such harassment, but that the apogee of his abuse, affecting 20 women, took place at Artnet and nothing was done about it by company leadership. If, according to Glassdoor, Artnet has 65 New York-based employees, then a third of their entire office was impacted by Genocchio’s behavior — an astounding figure, and one which begs the question, what did the other two-thirds of the office think? Despite this widespread transgression, when Pabst was approached by the Times in its reporting for the article, he retreated into a set of denials regarding Genocchio’s behavior.
Excerpts from Pogrebin’s article reinforce that point:
“You are aware of the issues around sexual harassment that have come up, specifically around Ben G, so I will not go into detail,” Ms. Wilson wrote to Mr. Pabst. “I have come to you several times not on my own behalf but because so many other people feel too afraid to speak up.”
Artnet should “have a very low tolerance for these offenses,” Ms. Wilson added in the memo. “Just because the cause of most of these problems is isolated to one individual does not mean that the effects are isolatable.”
In an interview, Mr. Pabst said he could not discuss the specifics of Mr. Genocchio’s tenure. “I have to treat certain types of information as confidential — this is his personal stuff,” he said.
“We have clear processes here at Artnet,” he added. “I can assure you, whenever there has been any issue, it has been dealt with.”
Ms. Calvo said she and her female superior complained to Mr. Pabst but that, when she was about halfway through her remarks, Mr. Pabst interrupted her by saying, “I’ve heard enough.” [bold mine] (Mr. Pabst did not respond to a query about this.)
“Many in the company said they felt that Mr. Pabst did not take the complaints more seriously because he was friendly with Mr. Genocchio, with whom he played tennis. ‘I know you deny your closeness to people like Ben,’ Ms. Wilson, the former director of strategy, wrote in her memo to Mr. Pabst. But ‘the perception is that there is a ‘boys club’ and there are factors that reinforce this perception, no matter how long it has been since you played tennis together’.”
“In the interview with The Times, Mr. Pabst denied that he and Mr. Genocchio were friends and that he was unresponsive to complaints. ‘It’s absolutely not true that people came to my office and I didn’t respond,’ he said. ‘In terms of Ben Genocchio, I wasn’t aware of any serious claims by any employees’.”
“But others say Mr. Genocchio’s special status was obvious to everyone in the office.
‘Ben got away with it,’ Ms. Calvo said. ‘The company got away with it’.”
This form of personal denial and institutional silence reminds me of the recent film “The Square,” by Ruben Ostlund (2017). In this film Ostlund takes the art world as his subject matter and raises the question, at what point do members of this community care for one another, at what point do they intervene when they are confronted with abuse? In “The Square” this question is answered, by showing that care came only at the very limit of abuse — extreme violence against a woman — but why must we endure and remain apathetic to other forms of harassment along the way?
While the harassment by Kelly has been pathological and actions by Genocchio truly reprehensible, attacks continue against both my reputation — here my Wikipedia page has been repeatedly defaced — my company and its employees — again from a boys’ club made up of a number of former employees, who were each friendly with Genocchio and/or worked with him after his move to Artnet — namely, Andrew Goldstein, Ben Davis, and now at Artsy, Scott Indrisek. Goldstein himself was left go from my company, similarly to Genocchio for cost overruns, Indrisek later from Modern Painters for continual displays of erratic behavior.
For instance, before the Times story broke about Genocchio, Artnet and former editors Ben Davis and Andrew Goldstein wrote a scathing critique about a new product that my company recently launched, called Blouinshop.com. In it they made gross misrepresentations about my company and my new e-commerce platform, using for source material a host of negative Kelly articles from the Post, as if they were undisputed academic papers. This article was written just months after Ben Davis emailed me personally in praise of the editorial integrity of the company. After Davis penned the critical article, Goldstein promoted it on social media encouraging readers to get “popcorn” to not only aid in their reading but to join in on the bullying of my company and its dedicated employees.
While the harassment and abuses represented do not rise to the level of extreme violence as depicted in “The Square,” the years of emotional abuse and harassment I have endured has caused my reputation, and my company, to suffer.
It is time for this abuse to stop; and in solidarity with women everywhere, it is time to act.
Louise Blouin ***
As a gesture of support and solidarity, I wish to offer a confidential point of contact for those women in the artworld who have also suffered such aggravated harassment. We need to create, together, a new normal that is based upon respect, equality, dignity and justice. firstname.lastname@example.org