Did Jeff Koons “abuse” John Powers?

Posted August 22nd, 2012

Contemporary Art, Discussions

John Powers is a private investigator working on a novel. When he was a 21-year-old art student, Jeff Koons hired him as an assistant in 1995. In an essay for the New York Times Magazine headlined “I Was Jeff Koons’s Studio Serf”, Powers recounts the events surrounding the “Cracked Egg”s fall. Bloggers, “Tweeters” and Facebookers from the world of arts have been busy commenting on the article and calling Jeff Koons all kinds of names since it was published last weekend.

Even though it’s refreshing to have a discussion about the role of assistants in contemporary arts, some people should actually read the essay again before they start turning John Powers into some sort of exploited struggling artist. “Abuse” is a strong word and you should not use it if you don’t really mean it.

Powers got paid well for his work. The work wasn’t hard and Koons seemd to have treated him with respect. John Powers made more money at Koon’s studio than in his previous jobs which tells you something about the economy and “the art business”, but that’s something else and it’s got nothing to do with Jeff Koons as a person.

Some art bloggers and “Tweeters” (people who also write about their breakfast and even post photos of it) should really try to get the bigger picture more often and stop behaving like little celebrity gossip magazines whenever the names Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst pop up on the news.

EXCERPT from the New York Times Magazine: “I Was Jeff Koons’s Studio Serf” by John Powers:
“My job was simple: Paint by numbers. The most intricate sections required miniature brushes, sizes 0 and 00, their bristles no longer than an eyelash. The goal was to hand-fashion a flat, seamless surface that appeared to have been manufactured by machine, which meant there could be no visible brush strokes, no blending, no mistakes.

After five long months, the painting — my painting — was nearly complete. Silvery blue reflections of the empty egg glimmered across the canvas like mercury. But one Saturday morning, the 10-foot-high painting unexpectedly slipped free from the wall. The stretchers were rigged to a pulley system so the paintings could be raised and lowered, and I was cranking the winch when the top edge tipped forward. The painting crashed toward the center of the room. One of the other assistants turned in time to catch it. She was wearing nitrile gloves covered with cadmium, smearing the white egg with red handprints.

Everybody seemed to agree it wasn’t my fault. I hadn’t built the frame that was supposed to hold the stretcher, and nobody else had thought to tighten the screws. Koons was, if anything, sympathetic. ”

Read the whole essay here.