Reactor

Why Not to Work for Jeff Koons

by Kyle Petreycik on January 29, 2013

Jeff Koons's studio (Image via gotryke.com)

Jeff Koons’s studio (Image via gotryke.com)

At this very moment many young artists are endlessly scrolling through the infamous job listings on the New York Foundation for the Arts website hoping to find anything that slightly resembles a paying gig. Then it suddenly appears, a job listing by no other than Jeff Koons. I’ve always wondered why someone would ever want to work in Koon’s factory. Unless you have an undying love for painting photorealistic lobsters or would like to become an expert in polishing balloon dogs, what’s the point?

Each job posting is worded very carefully describing a perhaps understated “demanding studio atmosphere” requiring that each applicant send a resume, as well as images of work. But is working for Jeff Koons really as easy as sending a couple of emails, and perhaps some photos? Apparently it is, as stated in a previous New York Times Magazine essay by John Powers, a former painting assistant to Koons. (Unfortunately, the painting Powers worked on for months ended up fatally damaged in a fall.)

Jeff Koons's "Cracked Egg," the painting John Powers worked on (Image courtesy Christie's)

Jeff Koons’s “Cracked Egg,” the painting John Powers worked on (Image courtesy Christie’s)

These job postings for the Koons factory pop up quite consistently every few months, suggesting that maybe it isn’t such a great job after all — people frequently either quit or get fired. This kind of turnover is to be expected in regards to such a stressful job, but what is even more fascinating is the fact that the listings themselves even exist.

The culture of artist assistantships is such that many artists hire studio assistants by word-of-mouth, rather than posting a public job listing on NYFA. An artist usually recommends an assistant to a friend that has already proven him or herself by doing quality work in the past. Despite the difficulty of these jobs and the stress of working to create another person’s art, assistantships are coveted prizes — they allow young artists to be involved in art full time, getting paid a salary while, hopefully, learning something about the realities of being a professional artist. Yet not all assistantships are created equal.

Becoming involved with a factory of workers all creating one artist’s work is certainly a concern when it comes to the idea of laboring in Jeff Koons’s atelier. It would undoubtedly be much different than working in what I would like to call a “traditional” artist-assistant job. These positions usually include a one-on-one dialogue with the artist, a chance to develop a professional relationship and gain knowledge, which would likely be imparted to you in higher frequency than money, and thus forms the main benefit of doing the work. Chances are, you won’t get that much personal contact with the “ideas man” Koons while working to polish a sculpture or perfect a canvas.

So should you apply for the Koons jobs? My recommendation is to send in your resume and portfolio. Go for it. But don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

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  • M.S.

    To paraphrase:

    “Don’t work at Jeff Koons Studio. Take it from me: I haven’t worked there.”

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      And what do you say to the commenter who worked in Koons studio and agrees with this assessment?

      • M.S.

        I would basically agree verbatim with the response from Eddie Cimoch. Someone who accepts a position with Koons, without knowing how his studio operates, surely has not done a reasonable amount of research. His production methods are well-known, and have been like this for decades.

  • http://www.kylepetreycik.com/ Kyle Petreycik

    What I’m trying to touch upon is the point of view of a young artist who has prior experience in working these kinds of artist assistant jobs; wanting to elaborate on how working for Koon’s seems like it would be a very unfulfilling position.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.chapman.9026 Shawn Chapman

    There is a reason they give you a check at the end of the week. Nothing is ever so fulfilling as eating regularly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eddie-Cimoch/22907206 Eddie Cimoch

    Aren’t these the types of concerns that have distinguished the aesthetic of Koons? How can you be surprised that the man treats his employees like machines and his studio like a production line. Control is a key element to his work.

    The more pointed question here would be “why would an artist (who claims to aspire to be autonomous) take part in what is so clearly identified as the most corporate entity in art-making?” Working for Koons is much the same as the volumes of artists who take jobs as production technicians or careers of the like.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Isn’t that the point of the author? It’s unfulfilling for most assistants.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eddie-Cimoch/22907206 Eddie Cimoch

        You’re right, I guess I was hoping for there to be something more concluding than the obvious.

        The role of the assistant is changing in the traditional sense and arguably becoming less personal along with the process of artmaking. Yes, there are still substantial amount of artists making work reliant upon a certain bond to there material but I don’t know that assistants perform the same function for them (as the function discussed in this article).

        Just thought I would throw out my previous comment as a way to dig more into the point of this article. Thanks for the response though.

  • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

    Most people that I know who have worked in the studios of some very famous artists and hated it are afraid to comment and speak about their experiences for fear of being blackballed … and the truth is that in some aspects of the art world they have reason to be worried. I think it’s unrealistic to think they are going to be the ones bringing up these issues.

    • John Redmann

      nihil nisi bonum.

      • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

        HA! Classic.

  • http://twitter.com/SMFGallery SoManyFans

    There is nothing shameful in doing art production work. Keep in mind the actual task and job description. The only thing needed of you is skill, hard work and a desire to be on the Koons team. You are not applying for a mentor, so you shouldn’t expect to get “tips” or “advice”. Art is a business. The majority if the work is in the creation, execution and display. Afterwards you have to work hard to make sales and “schmoozing” is a part of that. I’m sure if you have the right attitude you can learn something positive from the experience. Besides I should think it looks good on your resume.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Matthews/586667086 Kim Matthews

      Indeed. Everyone has to earn a living. I’d rather do production work than teach, wait tables, or most of the other options available to artists who need day jobs. At least you get to sharpen your skills while you work–even if you’re not doing work you love or working for someone you love.

  • Den Hickey

    Every time I hear Koons talk he sounds like a cult leader.

  • http://twitter.com/THATDINODINCO DINO DINCO

    Sound suits or Henry Lee?

  • Eisig

    This is a ridiculous article. Even for this poxy blog, this is lazy, lazy journalism. I’ve worked for Koons. I’ve also painted for a few other artists. Firstly, nobody calls these things ‘assistantships’. They’re called ‘jobs’. Artist assistants are not all recent art school graduates and they are not all young people. They aren’t even mostly young people. They are very specialized laborers. Gee whiz, why would anyone want to get paid for something they’re good at doing? Like you said, “Whats the point?” I’d imagine if I were a recent graduate propped up by money from my parents I might feel the same way- but I don’t want to make assumptions. I’m not a blogger!

    You couldn’t go out of your way to talk to someone who works or worked for Koons? You couldn’t take the twenty seconds to google one of the dozens and dozens of people who list Koons on their resume on linkedin? You only cite one article, and it doesn’t even appear that you did much more than skim it. You assume because you see a job listing more than once that there is a high turnover rate? You assume it’s stressful based on.. what, exactly? A vision you had? Did a talking wolf tell you “Heey Kyle.. uh… don’t wooork for Koons. Or maaaybe you should??” God forbid you actually, you know, research something. Or even google it. I mean, don’t strain yourself, but the Koons studio has a phone number.

  • Eisig

    I’ve worked for Koons. I’ve also painted for a few other artists. Firstly, nobody calls these things ‘assistantships’. They’re called ‘jobs’. Artist assistants are not all recent art school graduates and they are not all young people. They aren’t even mostly young people. They are very specialized laborers. Gee whiz, why would anyone want to get paid for something they’re good at doing? Like you said, “Whats the point?” I’d imagine if I were a recent graduate propped up by money from my parents I might feel the same way- but I don’t want to make assumptions. I’m not a blogger!

    You couldn’t go out of your way to talk to someone who works or worked for Koons? You couldn’t take the twenty seconds to google one of the dozens and dozens of people who list Koons on their resume on linkedin? You only cite one article, and it doesn’t even appear that you did much more than skim it. You assume because you see a job listing more than once that there is a high turnover rate? You assume it’s stressful based on.. what, exactly? A vision you had? Did a talking wolf tell you “Heey uh… don’t wooork for Koons. Or maaaybe you should??” God forbid you actually, you know, research something. Or even google it. I mean, don’t strain yourself, but the Koons studio has a phone number.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Thanks for chiming in, Elsig. A few people have spoken to us off the record about these are issues and felt there was truth to this.

      We’re seeing that many people don’t want to go on the record about these types of positions unless they’re glowing for fear of being black listed or something similar.

      I just want to point out that this was not a news piece or piece of reporting but one writer/artist’s opinion.

      • Eisig

        His studio employs well over a hundred people.and has been in operation since the 90s. Dozens and dozens if not hundreds of people have worked for him over the years, most of them being artists, most of them having websites of their own, making them very easy to find.

        I’m not saying it’s a paradise, but I find it hard to swallow that they’re all cowering in fear, terrified of being ‘blacklisted’.

        But that’s well besides the point- the ‘opinion’ of this piece is that the point of working as an artist assistant is to learn from the artist, and that is patently untrue. That kind of nonsense is why internships are popping up everywhere in place of actual working positions.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          I think that’s what many artists expect to a degree, and as a young artist the author is expressing that. Opinion pieces are just that, and a reflection of the author and his own anxieties, concerns, interests, etc.

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