A group of some 40 artists and writers have signed a “Letter of Concern” directed at the New York–based nonprofit Swiss Institute, its board, and staff, asking them to respond to criminal charges against artist Tobias Madison, whose work is included in one of the space’s current exhibitions, “Life and Limbs.”
The letter, which was first sent on September 30, with a follow-up letter sent October 7, was addressed to the exhibition’s curator, artist Anna-Sophie Berger; Swiss Institute’s board of trustees and staff; and the other artists in the exhibition. In the letter, the signers—who include artists Moyra Davey, Seung-Min Lee, Max Maslansky, Naama Arad, Rebecca Watson Horn, Jillian McManemin, and Jennifer Boysen, poet Ariana Reines, and writer Domenick Ammirati, among others—say that they want to ensure that those working with Madison are aware of pending charges against him in New York Criminal Court, which include assault with the intention to cause physical injury and criminal obstruction of breathing. The allegations, reportedly made by his ex-girlfriend, stem from an incident on December 1, 2018, and were first published in the Art Newspaper.
Madison has not yet entered a plea, and declined to comment because the court case is ongoing. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for October 16. Julie Rendelman, Madison’s attorney, declined to comment, as did Madison’s Zurich representative, Galerie Francesca Pia.
“While a verdict has not yet been reached in court,” the letter reads, “we take these accusations seriously, and we believe a conversation about them must take place. How should we, as a community, address these kinds of troubling claims? We defer to you. Ignoring them is not the answer.”
The letter-writing effort was organized by Kate Wolf, a Los Angeles–based writer and editor who said she is a close friend of the alleged victim in the case. “My reasons for doing this are not hypothetical or theoretical,” Wolf told ARTnews on Monday, October 7. “It’s because I believe the victim’s claims. I believe what she told me and what she’s told the authorities.”
Berger and representatives for Swiss Institute did not respond to requests for comment prior to the publication of this article on Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday evening, October 8, a rep for the Swiss Institute shared an email that its director, Simon Castets, sent to Wolf in response to the letter today. It reads, “Swiss Institute understands the gravity of these accusations, but we are not able to comment or respond regarding an ongoing legal case. We respect the rights of all parties involved. Therefore, we will let the courts and the authorities determine the facts.”
Wolf said she put together the letter because she didn’t want the charges to go ignored. “I want people who work with Tobias to understand the charges against him and if they choose to work him again, of course, it’s their choice but I think they have to make that choice with full knowledge,” she said.
Prior to the Swiss Institute’s response on Tuesday evening, Wolf said that the only reply she had received was from Davey, who is included in the exhibition and added her name to the letter for the October 7 follow-up email.
“It would have been nice to hear back from the Swiss Institute, just to say, ‘We hear you,’ ” Wolf said in her October 7 conversation with ARTnews. “And either, ‘We don’t think these charges apply to the choice to have him in the show or not,’ or ‘We’re thinking about it.’ In these times I think there have to be a public grappling with serious charges of physical assault.”
Updated 10/08/2019, 7:50 p.m.: The article has been updated to include a statement from the Swiss Institute's director Simon Castets.