Those browsing the classified section on the New York Foundation of the Arts website last week may have stumbled upon a listing a full-time “Executive/Personal Assistant” for a “high-profile art couple.” It was quickly dubbed the “the worst job ever” by the New York Times on Sunday.
The successful candidate, the listing said, would need “a high level of discretion” and take on the wide range of tasks, including being a caretaker for a child, dogs, chef, nannies, landscapers, housekeeper, and guests. While the official rundown of responsibilities may have seemed like a task for an entire staff —not one person—for those of us who have worked in the art world, the listing hardly seemed surprising.
(Full disclosure: this writer—just two years shy of a decade working in the scene—has experienced such demands in a number of different assistant roles.)
Though most job descriptions don’t often boast such menial tasks outright, among the art world it is often an unspoken requirement of the job. In many jobs, it is the expectation that worker bees will pick up any and all tasks hurled at them in the hopes of one day “making it.” This is hardly a one-off situation.
Below is a look at some of the other bad jobs offered over the last few years in the art world.
Head of Coffee at Tate
In early 2020, just before the onslaught of the pandemic, the London–based Tate museum sought to hire a coffee expert for its food division. The museum faced backlash as the position offered £5,000 ($6,500) more per year than most curatorial jobs at the institution. Critics argued that the discrepancy showed a lack of respect for people who organize exhibitions at one of the world’s most prestigious museums.
The role involved such responsibilities as assessing the quality of espresso and operating the museum’s four different locations while leading business development and handling sales—tasks that would earn most people six figures outside of the art world.
Elitist Art Director
In 2021, the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields posted a controversial job listing seeking a director who could maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.” As a result, the institution’s president Charles Venable resigned and Newfields promised to change the way it operates, as well as the work culture it facilitates.
Collecting Grocery Lists
As part of a 2015 project by Brazilian-born artist Rivane Neuenschwander, Chelsea gallery Tanya Bonakdar posted a job listing seeking part-time paid volunteers “to help collect grocery lists from shoppers at farmers markets.” The artist, who was shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Prize in 2004, had used such a list in her 2003 work Gastronomic Translations, for which she commissioned two São Paulo chefs to prepare a meal from a grocery list she found in a Frankfurt supermarket.
Conversing in a Gallery Exhibition
Many years ago, Lower East Side art dealer Lisa Cooley was hunting for volunteers to participate in an immersive, multimedia work by artist Darren Bader, which was included in the gallery’s 2013 group show “Air de Pied-à-terre.” At the time, Cooley was looking for people to converse during gallery hours (Wednesday through Sunday, 10am–6pm) while the show was on view, reported the Observer. According to the job posting, “They can engage in a variety of activities during the course of the work (ie: walk, sit, stand, lie down, sleep, eat, etc…) as long as they are sometimes conversing.” This job was a unique opportunity to participate in a work of art for those looking to kill a lot of time with no monetary compensation.
Former ARTnews executive editor Andrew Russeth spent a few years trolling art world jobs on his personal Twitter account. Some of these included a drawing assistant, another working for a “private family” with duties that included “submission of all forms for the Congressional Medal of Honor,” volunteers for an edible installation spanning five days at $3.75 per hour, participants for a Jeffrey Gibson drumming performance at New York’s New Museum, and “performance facilitators” to handle Haegue Yang sculptures covered with “thousands of individual bells” at New York’s MoMA.
Whether you are looking for your next job or have been personally victimized by working in the art world—yes, some stalwarts can be compared to Regina George from the popular 2004 movie Mean Girls— check out the Instagram account cancel the damn art galleries. There, you can vet a prospective job or vent about a previous employment experience. Real stories of discrimination, exploitation, and abuse in the commercial art world are submitted by workers and reviewed before being posted on the account.