Who Needs Assistants When You Have Robots? Jeff Koons Lays Off Dozens in a Move Toward a Decentralized, Automated Studio Practice
Although Jeff Koons’s name has long been synonymous with massive prices, massive scale, and a massive in-house studio operation, perceptions about at least one of these are changing.
For the fourth time since 2015, Koons significantly cut back his staff of studio assistants in tandem with a move to a new studio earlier this week. And while details are still coming into focus, the shakeup reflects an artist moving further and further away from a centralized, manpower-driven structure toward a decentralized, automation-driven one.
According to sources close to the matter, roughly 30 workers in Koons’s painting department were let go this Monday, and layoffs continued in the sculpture department the following day. The painting department dropped from 40 employees to between six and 10, including painters who also had at least some managerial responsibilities. Only “a few” staffers were reportedly left in both the sculpture and 3D design departments. All told, one source estimated the total remaining staff size to be in the vicinity of 20 people. Emails and a phone call to the studio requesting comment were not returned.
The new cuts leave a drastically leaner production team than Koons employed just a few years ago. His painting department alone had swelled to nearly 100 staffers in the lead-up to his “Gazing Ball” exhibition at Gagosian in 2015. Over the next year, around 50 assistants were reportedly dismissed in two rounds of layoffs. Two years later, the mega-artist cleaved the size of his painting department from nearly 60 assistants to around 30.
This time around, sources say, several employees were placed on unpaid time off before the holidays. Those laid off this week were notified in person on Monday and Tuesday but were given no reason for the decision. They received no severance pay beyond their last day’s wages. At least one former assistant born abroad posted on social media that they would now be left to confront the prospect of losing their work visa.