Ken Kontroversy, 3rd Ed.

December 8th, 2012

The authors of the open letter to the New York Times have released the response they received from John Landman, Culture Editor of the NYTimes on December 4th.

Dear Colleen Asper, Anoka Faruqee, Steve Locke, Dushko Petrovich and William Villalongo;

Thanks for your letter about Ken Johnson’s reviews. I’m glad to acknowledge that some of Ken’s phrases could have been more precise. He has acknowledged this himself on his Facebook page, where there is lots of lively discussion of the issues you have raised. As Ken wrote, “I can see how my statement that ‘Black artists did not invent assemblage’ taken out of context seems needlessly provocative.”

At the same time, I assume that anyone who believes in the value of healthy debate would condemn any effort to stifle good-faith ideas and those who express them. I am heartened by your assurance that you are not calling for Ken’s resignation or censure, but your letter has been circulating for a couple of weeks as a petition and petitions are meant to produce action. It would be troubling, and, it seems to me, inimical to what I would like to believe is your goal, if the action contemplated by the petition involved some sanction by The Times against Ken, whom you in effect accuse of racism and sexism. To be clear: Ken is guilty of neither of those things.

The bottom line, for me, is that Ken’s work, like any critic’s, is legitimately subject to tough criticism. Yours is welcome and it has properly stimulated all sorts of reaction. Less welcome is any suggestion that The Times should publicly “address” unfair and unsound accusations against him.


Jonathan Landman

The authors replied to Mr. Landman on December 5, 2012:

Dear Mr. Landman:

Thank you for your response. We welcome your acknowledgement of “imprecise language.” However, our letter speaks to the overall quality and effect of the texts. We remain disappointed that you see our letter and its stated goal as an accusation against an individual rather than a question of the New York Times’ journalistic and editorial rigor.

The many who signed the letter have hoped for a considered response in print, in the form of an opinion piece or letter. Can we infer that yours is the only response from the New York Times? If so, we assume we can share your note with the many who signed the letter and those who continue to write about this debate.


Colleen Asper
Anoka Faruqee
Steve Locke
Dushko Petrovich
William Villalongo

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