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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  • disqus_PxXVMQox1G

    i can’t figure out what the point of this essay is. every assertion is carefully qualified so as to render it meaningless: “perhaps; suggesting; chances are.” and so forth. aside from a link to an article any art browser would have already known about and read sooner, it doesn’t bother to do any research into the whys or have any quotes from current or previous koons’ staff.

    • 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.

  • M.S.

    To paraphrase:

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

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

      • disqus_PxXVMQox1G

        the commenter who worked in Koons studio (lfox) is the person who should have written this article.

        • 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.

      • 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.

  • lfox

    I worked for Koons. There is nothing of value to learn from him. He has a strict procedure and process of paint by numbers, using color paint swatches that are mixed to match and then tubed for the artist. You can not stray from his dictated procedure and are expected to finish a certain section of the painting per day. This is no apprenticeship, it really is an assembly line. His studio managers run everything and when he did show up there was very little interaction with him. He is however good at schmoozing people and selling his art, he knows his potential buyers and what they want to hear.

    • 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.

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

        • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • O.W.

    Don’t work for Nick Cave. Modern day sweat shop.

  • Den Hickey

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

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