From left: Eileen Guggenheim, David Kratz and Naomi Watts attend the Tribeca Ball at the New York Academy of Art in 2018. Greg Allen/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
The New York Academy of Arts executive committee has issued a “profound apology” to former student Maria Farmer, one of Jeffrey Epsteins earliest alleged victims, following the resignation of a number of high-profile board members over the schools response to Farmers claims.
An illustrious private graduate school co-founded by Andy Warhol and known for its emphasis on figurative art, the academy was accused last year by Farmer—especially in an allegation against its board chair, Eileen Guggenheim—of enabling the late financier and convicted sex offenders abuse. The accusations came not long after Epstein was arrested and indicted for sex trafficking underage girls.
In response, the school hired a legal team to investigate her claims. But aspects of the investigation have been characterised as “victim blaming” by past and present students, according to Artnet News, which first reported the story.
Actress Naomi Watts was one of the first board members to resign last month, followed by the departures of Ippolita Rostagno, Alina Lundry and Valerie Cooper on 30 July.
Farmer claims that Guggenheim, then the dean of students, introduced her to Epstein—who served on the schools board from 1987 to 1994—and his alleged co-conspirator, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, at her 1995 MFA thesis show and encouraged her to sell them her work at a discounted price because of the financial support Epstein had offered to the academy. The work depicted a man standing in a doorway observing a reclining nude woman—an allusion, Farmer recently told the New York Times, to Edgar Degass Interior (1868-69), also known as The Rape. Farmer also alleges that Guggenheim invited her and other NYAA alumnae on a visit to Epsteins New Mexico ranch the following summer, where her 16-year-old sister, Annie Farmer, was subjected to a disturbing topless massage.
Overseen by the firm Walden Macht and Haran and released in June, the legal investigation of these claims concluded “that critical aspects of Farmers allegations against Guggenheim are untrue”. The board then issued “a vote of full confidence in its board chair", asking her to remain in the position.
Many students and alumni, however, were upset by what they perceived as bias and sexist language in the report, while some former trustees felt uncomfortable with the law firm's investigation. An open letter signed by nearly 100 students and alumni and sent to the NYAAs executive leadership and board last month says: “This victim-blaming rhetoric exemplifies an alarming dissonance with the cultural moment… Unfortunately, the summary of this investigation seems to indicate a singular focus on discrediting Farmers testimony rather than delving into Epsteins involvement with the NYAAs board, his long-time financial ties to the school or his personal relationship to Guggenheim.”
The authors of the open letter, whose names have not been revealed, also contend that they have felt unfairly implicated in the academys aggressive fundraising efforts at the expense of students time and resources, namely the well-known annual Tribeca Ball, and urged the leadership to reconsider the potentially problematic relationships it created between students and donors.
Though the remaining board members have yet to comment on the resignations, the executive committee issued a letter yesterday apologising to Farmer and other alumni who are “upset and angry” with its response. Additionally, the board has said it would make a $30,000 donation—the amount Epstein gave in scholarship support to the academy—to a charity for victims of sexual assault.
“Some of the conclusions in the resulting report blamed Ms. Farmer and we regret they were included,” the letter states. “We will direct our law firm to strike from the final report any conclusion that could be perceived as victim-blaming.”
It follows one that Guggenheim herself sent on 1 August, which was similar in tone and apologised for any additional trauma the legal investigation and suRead More – Source