Marina Abramović (screenshot via Vimeo)

Marina Abramović (screenshot via Vimeo)

Good news: the Marina Abramović Institute is hiring! Bad news: all four positions listed in this fresh New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) ad are unpaid — ahem, volunteer. They’re probably great “opportunities,” though, right?

Let’s take a look.

1. Administrative Volunteer

  • Work: “general administrative duties, planning art-based special events, and development.”
  • Skills required: “excellent writing skills, the ability to multi-task, proficiency in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, and prior experience working in a fast-paced arts non-profit or other administrative position.”
  • (Nonmonetary, intangible) benefits: “the opportunity to grow within the organization and expand professional networks.”

2. Tech and Production Volunteer

  • Work: “development and maintenance of IMMATERIAL, MAI’s digital journal.”
  • Skills required: Unclear, but they are looking for people “who would like to expand their knowledge of Javascript / JSON / Jquery, HTML5, CSS, Video streaming via Vimeo and/or Youtube Live,” which implies that you should already have some knowledge of these things.
  • (Nonmonetary, intangible) benefits: “a unique opportunity to hone technology skills on a highly visible, emerging arts platform.”
  • Bonus job volunteer position: “We also have volunteer opportunities for assistance with video and audio production, photo editing, and print layout.” Awesome, because I was wondering about that.

3. Special Projects Volunteer

  • Work: “preparing and working on collaborative in-person and digital projects.”
  • Skills required: “excellent organization and communication skills, proficiency in Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite and basic HTML / CSS coding, familiarity with non-profit administration, comfort collaborating with partners in and outside of the arts and strong passion for the expanding the role of arts and sciences in various communities”
  • (Nonmonetary, intangible) benefits: none, but “artists are encouraged to apply”!

4. Research Volunteer

  • Work: “researching for the content of IMMATERIAL”
  • Skills required: “based in New York City and have a college-level background in art history, performance art, and/or performance art studies. Strong writing skills required. Additional background in at least two of the following: the sciences, research assistance, curatorial practice, performing arts, fine arts, photography / video.”
  • (Nonmonetary, intangible) benefits: none, unless you are “a critical thinker who wants to apply their skills to a large-scale collaborative project” and find that this fits the bill.

All of these positions have at least two-day-a-week commitments — which, amazingly, makes them sound even more like part-time work than they already do.

Abramović raised over $660,000 for her institute on Kickstarter in June and recently “collaborated” with Adidas. Yet somehow she cannot afford to pay people to work for MAI. (In the process she makes Jeff Koons, who boasted on Charlie Rose this week about how many people he employs, look like a saint.) We can only hope that, one day, someone who toils without compensation within the MAI apparatus will grab hold of their social media and give us something as good as this:


Addendum: There have been some great, strong reactions on Twitter to the job posting, including:

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

107 replies on “Marina Abramović Institute Seeks So Much Unpaid Work”

    1. I’ve had a particularly bad day. Bit of a stomach bug. Bad bad traffic. And I come home and I click on this article and lo and behold you made me laugh. Thank you.

  1. A pretty straight forward top-down economics, at least made visible on a prominent platform. Wasn’t MA complaining about the size of the budget given to her by the MoMA for her solo exhibition?

  2. I want the front desk job… when visitors come to the “Institution” I’d just stare at them with a knife clenched in my teeth until they realized the truth!!

      1. unpaid professional is an oxymoron, since a professional is the one who earns money by his profession.

        1. That’s a fairly banal summation of work and value. It also assumes all those who ‘earn money’ are ‘professionals’ which is simply not true. Put a little more thought into it next time kthxbai.

          1. In your rehash it is banal. But this is not what I said (actually, it’s a very well known quote). Try to concentrate and figure out what the difference is between ” professional is the one who earns money by his profession” and “who ‘earn money’ are ‘professionals'”. You can do it!

          2. So your response to Pugilist was a quote without attribution? In some circles that’s considered plagiarism, but you’re no academic obviously.

          3. So your response to Pugilist was a quote without attribution? In some circles that’s considered plagiarism, but you’re no academic obviously.

          4. damn broe we got a fuckin disqus veteran over here why dont you let us in on your fucking reddit comment karma while youre at it dog fuck im just blessed to be in your presence

          5. are you a libertarian by any chance because youre hitting every other ‘smug white guy that has no girlfriend and thinks he’s clever despite being the most boring person alive’ bingo square

          6. spoken like a true random internet article professional. also ‘kthxbai’ lol hows 4chan these days homie

      1. and the only lively discussion on this board is when it IS about money. stop this planet, I want to get off.

        1. are you being ironic or just stupid? Marina is very wealthy, her institution raised 600k and can’t pay their employees a living wage

          1. “This is about art, not money” what were you trying to say exactly? People should be paid a living wage and for an institution like that to not pay their employees is sick.

            By the way I mentioned that Marina was wealthy (10m net worth) and that her institute raised 600k+ in public funding, two issues not one. The institute can afford to pay their employees a living wage.

            PS:600k would put Marina in or near the 1% wealthiest people, even though that’s not what I said , with her net worth of 10m she’s up there…”The average household income of the 1% was $1.2m in 2008, according to federal tax data. The ultra-rich skew that average upwards: admission to the 1% began at $380,000 in 2008. ”

            PPS: fuck you idiot you have 600+ hater filled disqus comments you should get a hobby

          2. You are perhaps one of the dumbest people I have had the displeasure of seeing comment on anything online in recent history. You idiot she raised 600 k for the institute in kick starter that is not her net worth. She has far more money than that and if you think people should do anything to be involved in art and nit want some kind of monetary compensation you are border line brain dead and a royal asshat. Yes just like everyone else of the fucking planet since ancient times artists actually make art for monetary compensation and artists should also find themselves compelled to pay people who work for them as their labor and times deserves compensation. As fir stopping the world and getting off. Yes please make that happen at any cost get off the world you are a waste of DNA

          3. 600k is three times what you need to be in the top 1%. Yeah.. over half a million dollars is STILL wealthy.

        2. Xzuma – Working on your own art and not getting paid is one thing, working on someone else’s and not getting paid is just silly.
          The trouble is, if one doesn’t get paid, one won’t be able to afford to stay in the art world for long, as one will have to get a proper day job to pay one’s rent and bills, in which case the time for getting an art/curator/art history career off the ground will become severely curtailed.

    1. Most artists expect to be paid for their work if someone else is going to use it or benefit from it, and these aren’t even “art” jobs. One of these is an event planner. Two of these are tech-heavy web dev and video production jobs. The fourth is a copywriting position. My IT company hires 3 of these 4 positions, looking for people with roughly the same skill level and background, and we pay them, because people deserve to be paid for the work they do for you when you benefit from that work.

    2. Wrong, doing administration or rearch is a job, not making art. And people deserve to be able to earn a livelihood. Its corporate mentality to keep overhead low, raise capital, and exploit the resource. Jeff Koons is a saint compared to Abramovic’s schemes.

  3. Some of Marina’s work is about trusting the world at large. How can Marina go about teaching innocent artists and others these broad statements of trust whilst living in such a greedy, dangerous world!? Hey Marina how about showing people in your art how to survive finacially with no pay. While you are at it teach artists and people how you made your millions. What artists and people that support the arts need are ways to survive in the world. NO PAY for work just goes to show your priveledged arrogance and class that has nothing to do with real life! Your view Marina is idealistic at best and at worst is dangerous for the innocents that have chosen to believe in you and your view that the world deserves idle trust. Artists are not MBA’s and MBA’s are not artists. But we can learn from one another. Perhaps it is time for a bridge to reality for all.

  4. A major work by Marina was about idly trusting museum goers. I never understood how Marina could go about teaching people that they should idly trust, especially, when the world is filled with all kinds of dangers.
    This latest move by Marina just goes to prove to everyone that she is living in a world of priveledged arrogance. It is true that MBA’s and wealthy artists and the rest of world have very different backgrounds. Perhaps Marina there is a need for you to build a bridge between these worlds. Paying your workers might be a good first step to educating people how an art business should be run. This would go a long way to proving your point about trust too.

  5. Good lord. I wonder if
    she would be criticized as much if she were a man? Also, there are tons of
    posting for interns on, all unpaid positions, that are really
    not substantially different than what she is looking for. How about a balanced follow-up article on all the high profile male artists
    and art institutions/organizations/corporation and the interns they
    utilize and still do. And note to the author, Koons is a billionaire and there is really no way to compare Marina and Jeff on a financial level. And it seems safe to say that working with a famous artist will look fabulous on your CV (duh!)

    1. Yes she would. Stop making everything about gender inequality. Also you would not be working with her but for her.

    2. Oh please!!! She is criticized by plenty of women I know and it has nothing to do with her being a woman it has to do with her being a privileged phony user. Marina raised quite a bit if money she can afford to pay her interns period!!! Must we never criticize an artist ( so called ) because the artist is female for fear of being labeled sexist? You know what that is totally regressive and sexist.

    3. I’m not going to let her status as a person stop me from saying unpaid work is awful.

      … and if anything one would expect a woman to be MORE conscientious about the nature of unpaid work (e.g. the class burdens, the inherent privilege required to take such a job, the devaluation of “feminized” labor). That she isn’t doesn’t give her a free pass just because there’s still other men who need their feet held to the fire.

    4. Ever if we take your argument as completely valid and accurate the problem there is not that she is criticized too much, but that men would in that case not be criticized nearly enough… making the criticism of Abromovic utterly valid.

  6. I’m not a fan of unpaid internships but … to single out Abramovic for this is a bit unbalanced, it seems to me. Unpaid internships are common. And $660,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it would be if it all went to one person, but when you pay a staff it goes pretty quickly (and, presumably, the institute has paid as well as unpaid positions.)

      1. Who said she doesn’t pay her staff? She obviously has paid and unpaid positions at her institute. This article makes it sound like she isn’t paying ANY staff.

  7. I see her as the Serbian version of Ai Weiwei now. Both have capitalized their early work and background stories too much, and both are romanticized by the American bourgeois class.

  8. well, that is what you get when you mistake a revolt against Communist for art. Preforming art, as we know them, often find their place among many forms of abuse, or violence to a group. They are turning into apologetic forms -unfortunately accepted by masses, for someones very indecent behavior. Don’t be surprised by this from M.A. – everybody in Balkan is behaving that way. Art is not considered profession, but privilege, something only certain elite can do. I am surprised there isn’t a fee payed by her employers only to be present at their work place. Because, well, it about art, right?

  9. At least 2 off these are core positions with no end in sight (Secretary and Tech) and should be written into their general operating budget. They are no more suitable for internship than Executive Director. This is just being cheap. I want to see if this same austerity will be shown when treating her celebrity friends.
    Anyway, she has a record for this kind of shenanigans.

  10. In so many ways working without payment is wrong! and obviously, this is not about internship, it is applied to a very legitimate job. Coming from Balkan, I have to say, this is kind of normal, art is never considered as a real job, it is rarely paid, and when is, mostly to those whom are considered “elite”. Regardless of years and work you put in, money will be simply an abstraction for artist, nonexistent, but often heard of.

  11. Unfortunately, I have to say that those preforming arts that were started in mid sixties and included many artist from ex-Yugoslavia, but also from Central Europe, ( Laibach, Tom Gotovac, Valie Export, Viennese actionism), now is being in service for some different ideology. The scene thy set up and all the work they have done, is used apologetically to justify some behavior of groups and individuals with similar form of performance, or with a form of preformance that can be referred to their art, but used in post war situation has very violent, discriminating and intolerant, hatred background. Neo-fascist are presented as preforming artist, emotional cruelty or emotional violence is also presented as art, revenge sex tape – art, violence against women – art, and identity theft – also art. Maybe this institute should show what is not preforming art and establish a very tolerant and just surrounding. Starting with paid positions.

  12. I don’t know anything about this woman or the Institute before reading this article, but what’s wrong with seeking volunteers? Volunteers or unpaid interns are common in many industries, assuming the work being done will provide the volunteer/intern with experience or connections he or she can take elsewhere to help him or her get a full time job. In the arts world in particular, there are lots of people who donate their time because they simply love art even without the desire to parlay that experience into another job. If this Institute were to hire four full time employees with benefits that $660k would be gone pretty quickly.

    1. “If this Institute were to hire four full time employees with benefits that $660k would be gone pretty quickly.” Then they should raise more money.

      1. That’s certainly easy to say. Working to raise money takes time. It also takes resources away from actually producing art.

        I and many other people buy tickets to attend concerts put on by a local music group. The group also takes free-will offerings from their patrons to help support the group. The music group also relies upon volunteers to act as ushers, tickets collectors, salespeople, etc. I don’t understand why that is so outrageous to folks who are commenting here.

          1. How do you know that? Our local music group is pretty well-heeled (I live in a pretty big city with lots of wealthy people).

          2. Position #1 would actually entail fundraising, apparently done in a professional capacity but without being paid for it. This is quite different than ushering at a concert to support your friends or so that you can hear the music for free. (I run an arts nonprofit that involves both paid staff and many volunteers, and it’s from that perspective that I find MA’s scheme outrageous.)

        1. Yeah? Guess what. LIVING TAKES MONEY and an unpaid internship that expects you to have previous professional experience takes resources away from actually living.

          We aren’t talking about a local music group who have volunteers to help out for a couple hours a couple nights a week. We are talking about a world famous artist who is looking for multiple unpaid full-time workers.

      1. That may be. Perhaps this help wanted sign wasn’t meant for you, but for other people who love the arts or whatever type of art this woman is creating that would be willing to volunteer their time. I’m not sure what’s so awful about this artist putting out a call for volunteers.

        1. I completely support people volunteering for organizations whose missions they support. But the tasks described in these listings, as well as the expectation of prior experience, the amount of time required, and the lack of any indication of when the position will end makes these inappropriate roles for volunteers. They want people with very specific skills, skills that require certain work or educational experience. And that, at other organizations with budget’s as large as this, are generally paid. There’s a big difference between stuffing envelopes once a month or helping out at a gala one night and showing up three days a week to perform administrative tasks that are crucial to the organization.

          1. No, I really mean volunteering for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, helping out an organization you support that really does have a shoestring budget.

          2. The other commenter seemed to think that anyone objecting to these listings thinks that volunteering is bad in and of itself. I was trying to explain that I don’t always think it’s bad to volunteer, in a limited capacity for a short amount of time. But that’s not what this is, at all.

          3. Did you read the rest of my comments? I wasn’t saying that MAI has a shoestring budget and I think it’s completely inappropriate that they’re asking for this much unpaid labor. Sam Hamilton seemed to think that anyone who objects to this must object to volunteering in general. I think volunteering for an organization you support can be great, in certain, limited circumstances. I would be more likely to volunteer for an organization that I knew was operating on limited resources. MAI is not.

        2. You mean would be ABLE to volunteer their time for 40 hours a week without pay and still live in the NYC area.

  13. Yes, unpaid internships are prevalent in the art world (and a lot of other industries, unfortunately) and that’s its own problem. But these aren’t internships. MAI isn’t even calling them internships. 1 requires prior work experience, another listing states that prior experience is preferred. And there’s no suggestion that they’re temporary (for fall semester, for example). They could role 2 or 3 of these into a single full time, low-level, paid job. But instead they’re just looking for free labor.

  14. Ehem, @Verameat Jewelry ‘Interns”… *COUGH*hires experienced interns i.e. workers + no employment paperwork required prior to internship or school prerequisites required nor school credit offered*someone call the BBB*COUGH*

  15. question: since when are jobs in the art field profitable? i think marina is looking for someone who has a combination of the energy, drive, and knowledge necessary to help her put this machine she’s creating in motion without a guarantee of success. if that person doesn’t exist, then maybe the world really isn’t ready for an institute like this. all i know is that if i believed strongly enough in the mission of MAI as some people believe in religion or extraterrestrials or whatever, i wouldn’t mind contributing my skills and finding another way to support myself financially. i personally think it’s important to take a leap of faith in order to create change, and all revolutionaries are decried at first. it might suck not being compensated, but it’s not like i’m into pseudo-shamanistic postmodern art for the money anyways, you know?

    1. Thats funny… everyone I know who has a job in the art field gets paid for their work.

      Good luck finding another way to support yourself in NYC while working full time for MAI. Its not that it would suck to not be compensated, its that it is impossible to live without being compensated.. unless you are a trust funder.

      1. well yeah, everyone should get paid for their work. but with millions of working artists in NYC alone (despite MAI being located in Hudson), not everyone turns a living profit from their art. the right person for the job will obviously have no issue working full-time and supporting themselves otherwise, so anyone who isn’t comfortable trading labor for experience need not apply.

  16. Sontag! thou shouldst be living at this hour.
    Abramović hath need of thee: she is a fen
    Of unpaid interns.

  17. I had my strong doubts about her when she started trying to bridge that hipness gap with actors and pop stars… trying to get street cred for herself while giving art cred to them… and now she has finally crossed a line. Sure, I’m a multi-millionaire, but come work for me for free while trying to live in NYC!!!

    What utter scum she has proven herself to be. She wants this level of dedication from her professional “interns” for her project, but isn’t even dedicated enough to use some of her rather sizable wealth to pay these people for their work.

  18. “So what? Unpaid internships are everywhere..”

    These aren’t internships, they’re jobs. Even if they were, does that make it right?

  19. Sad to say, this is reasonable compared to some other institutions – including establishment institutions like the Whitney – who offer internships, unpaid, for full-time hours. And also require art history or similar higher education. Fine, maybe, if your parents live in NYC but if you have to pay for accomodation and living for 3 or 4 months with maybe a two day waiting tables job (for pocket money)… Again, only the trust-funders will be having this jewel on their resumes, and this is how the 1% stay the 1%. So sick of the blatant exploitation of young people by those who ought to know better and be leaders in example against this kind of thing.

  20. It doesn’t say if these are long-term or short-term jobs.
    But having formerly worked at and run NON-profit art organizations, some of this staffing should like be paid and permanent for MA, taking into consideration the duties. I’m sure MA’s accountant and lawyer are not volunteers. It IS a great op to work for somebody famous but you still have to pay your bills. Overall, it’s really shabby to run your business like this.

    What I would do, if I were her, is combine these volunteer jobs into one or two fulltime paid ones, and giving those people the ability to outsource some of the work, when it gets to be too much, to carefully screened volunteers, interns or freelancers. Very often in art orgs, the duties described in #1 (Admin) would be combined with those enumerated in #4 (Research)
    for their newsletter, blog, whatever). #2 (Tech) could be combined with #4. I have filled the hats of all 4, all in the same job, for an internationally known org, while rarely staying later than 5:30. Re #2: They didn’t have an online presence at that time, but I had to develop, design, write and distribute their newsletter. I assure you I was no volunteer! If I got buried,
    I enlisted the receptionist, other employees and maybe a freelancer or 2.

    There are lots of ways to do this. Getting your org 1 or 2 dedicated, PAID multitaskers can actually save your org money, by gaining experience and knowing what to do when. Otherwise, not being paid sends a message that they don’t have to care–they are just getting experience, right? They get to tell everybody that they worked for MA or whoever they did, right? Truth be told, WHO keeps track of all the interns and volunteers they get, if that’s who they use all the time? You can pretty much just say you worked for somebody like her anyway. Getting a bunch of interchangeable interns/volunteers is going to land your org in a mess when somebody didn’t know they were to do this or that, insults a donor, doesn’t show up because they wanted to do something else, etc. And as far as trust-funders are concerned, they may have even less allegiance to a job like this—a lot less tolerance to being told to get the F off FB or the phone and do some work.

  21. It seems that one of the aspects of this story/situation that has been given little attention is that what Abramovic is doing is unethical. Saying this is about recognizing what’s in front of us, not name calling. We should acknowledge that art, like any other human endeavor has an ethical component and Abramovic is essentially taking advantage of people because there is a glut of (over) qualified workers in the labor pool and she can save money for herself by refusing to pay her staff.

    This is simply theft, and we may so far have been refusing to say this out of a sense of politeness or awe, or an indifference to other people’s suffering. However, it is theft and it is unethical because she is stealing the value produced by her volunteers’ labor and profiting from it. I hope people who have supported her work start to pull back and refuse to continue to be complicit in this.

  22. Volunteer is not a good word, because people feel the necessity to do it. There is a nice German term instead: “Fußsoldat” (“foot soldier”), those guys who are sent to the front without equipment. By Marina, daughter of a WW2 Partisan.

  23. So she raised $660,000 on Kickstarter… but that’s pennies compared with the millions she’ll need to build the envisaged institute she’s got on her website. She’s a well-known name, but performance art’s nature limits its commercial potential (I wrote grant proposals for an artist hampered by this), so I wonder how much money Abramovic actually has.

    Sad to say, but my instinct is that this institute not going to get off the ground. The Rem Koolhaas-designed plans on the website look like fanciful vaporware, and the notion that all visitors must sign a pledge to spend at least six hours there immersed in the performance art is balderdash.

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