Why Not to Work for Jeff Koons

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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