Emily Colucci, a freelance art writer, “constantly, mindlessly” browses the online job listings hosted by the nonprofit New York Foundation for the Arts — and recently she found a doozy.
The ad, seeking a full-time “Executive/Personal Assistant” with “a high level of discretion,” had been posted by an anonymous but high-profile “Art World Family.” It was that phrase that first caught Colucci’s eye: “I thought it might have been a child-care service,” she explained. But the ad itself combined a tone so blithe with a detailed list of tasks so unreasonable that Colucci quickly posted it to the blog she co-founded, Filthy Dreams, under the title “I Found It: The Worst Art Job Listing Ever Created.”
And what made the blog post immediately catch fire across the internet was that it was only slightly crazier than the sorts of jobs many young people — the overeducated assistants, the underemployed M.F.A.s, all the well-dressed hordes of the exploited — already put up with to get a toehold in what looks like the glamour of the art world.
For starters, the lucky candidate would expect to work “in a dynamic, unstructured environment and possess flexibility to change course at a moment’s notice.”
Among many other domestic chores, the aspiring subordinate would “serve as the central point of communication to household staff (includes chef, nannies, landscapers, dog walkers, housekeeper, contractors, and building managers),” but also be left alone with the couple’s 4-year-old. Clothes would need to be picked up from “high end” stores, and one could expect to “coordinate all cleaning, repairs, and guest stays.” Do you have a green thumb? You’ll need one: The post requires “apartment rooftop garden maintenance.”
He or she would make restaurant reservations, R.S.V.P. to events, and “create detailed travel itineraries for family to follow” for domestic or international excursions — passports to hotels to airport escorts. (Oh, and manage travel bookings for members of the artist’s studio, too.)
But the point that really stayed with Colucci was the ad’s one-sentence synopsis of the job requirements: “The ideal candidate must be dedicated to a simple goal: make life easier for the couple in every way possible.”
“It’s just a total lack of self-awareness,” she said. “So of course I saw it and I laughed, ‘cause it’s hilarious.”
The listing itself was quickly taken down, but Colucci had uploaded the pdf. As it pinged from one reader to another, people argued about which aspect of the job, which offered to pay “$65,000 to $95,000,” was funniest or most insulting. The most frequently singled out absurdity was the phrase “Manage dog systems,” which included “potty breaks, food, day care, dog walkers, vet appts,” and helping the studio assistant with in-house cats.
Melanie Martin, director of sales and communications for the N.Y.F.A., said that employees vet listings daily as they are submitted. “We check that job listings adhere to relevant labor laws, including, but not limited to, the inclusion of a salary range,” she said, adding that this specific listing was never flagged. The organization did not respond when asked to identify the poster.
“Many people thought it was an art world parody,” said Noah Becker, an artist and the publisher of Whitehot Magazine. He said it brought to mind a gory satire of the art world he had seen on Netflix, “a Zoolander version of the art world — ‘Velvet Buzzsaw.’”
But if it had been posted “as a goof,” said Melissa Stern, an artist and journalist, it was by someone “who knows this world quite intimately.”
Emily Mae Smith, a painter who sometimes uses as many as three assistants in her own studio, said she found the ad “completely bonkers.”
She was especially struck by the amount of detail. “‘We want you to be a personal assistant, we want you to be an executive assistant, but we also want you to do all kinds of liaising with our staff,’ which sounds to me like three jobs. Oh, and babysitting?”
But plenty of people found it all too plausible.
Emmy Thelander, an artist and adjunct professor at City University of New York, said it wasn’t the job’s requirements but their obsessive enumeration that was hardest to swallow. “What’s ridiculous,” she said, “is that they felt the need to spell out all the belittling things that role implies.”
Rebecca Greene, a film producer who once was a personal assistant to a Hollywood A-lister, said, “The tasks aren’t that uncommon for what someone of a high-caliber financial situation would want. It’s just not typically written out that way, which is sort of intense.”
Like many others, Greene also found the salary range low for a job that, by her reckoning, should pay at least $150,000 in New York.
Soren Stockman, a poet and performer who works as an executive assistant, found it unlikely that any applicants would collect a full year’s salary, anyway. “That’s a job where, if you’re hired, it’s a countdown to being fired,” he said. “This person wants to never be affected by anything irritating. There’s no way to fill that need for someone.”
Colucci said, “It’s a microcosm of what goes on in the art world and in a lot of cultural industries. People with a lot of power, and a lot of money, that are basically able to hire a lot of underlings, underpaid, probably young. It’s very clear you’re going to be abused in this role in some shape or form.”
Of course, it’s exactly that kind of abuse that leads to successful books and films like “The Nanny Diaries” and “The Devil Wears Prada” — which may be something that the “Art Family” had in mind when they added that “a nondisclosure agreement must be signed upon hire.”
Zachary Small contributed reporting.