As Nike Deal Tanks, Disgraced Artist Tom Sachs Pens Public Apology

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Sculptor Tom Sachs today wrote to the New York Times to offer a public apology regarding his alleged treatment of staff. The apology arrived in the wake of Nike’s confirmation that it was “not working with Tom’s studio at this time and [has] no release dates planned.” Sachs, whose work investigates the various intersections of fashion, consumerism, science, and the military, had since 2012 collaborated with the footwear giant to create sneakers. The shoes were so sought after that they often achieved several times their original price on the resale market.

The New York–based contemporary artist, whose works have commanded gallery prices of $300,000, saw his empire rocked after the February publication of a help-wanted ad on the website of the nonprofit New York Foundation for the Arts sparked contempt, criticism, and, perhaps worst of all, conversation. The ad, posted anonymously by an “Art World Family” seeking an executive personal assistant, was reposted by Emily Colucci on her blog, where it drew attention for its excruciating and lengthy description of the many tasks required of the person who would “make life easier for the couple in every way possible.”

“‘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,” painter Emily Mae Smith told the Times a few days after the ad went up. “Oh, and babysitting?”

“That’s a job where, if you’re hired, it’s a countdown to being fired,” poet and performer Soren Stockman, an executive assistant, told the paper. “This person wants to never be affected by anything irritating. There’s no way to fill that need for someone.”

Among the more risible characterizations in the posting were those of “closet” and “dog systems,” referring, respectively, to the hanging of clothing and the feeding and walking of the family pet. The word “systems” was seized upon by a number of Sachs’s former staffers, who instantly recognized the term as one the artist typically used. A Curbed exposé followed, with ex-employees noting that Sachs was hyper-demanding, often throwing objects; shouting in their faces; or calling them “autistic,” “retarded,” or “bitch” when displeased.

Sachs in March acknowledged the kerfuffle in a letter to his staff but had remained publicly silent on the topic until news of the scuttled Nike deal broke.

“These past few months have been a time of overdue reflection,” Sachs said in his letter to the Times. “It has been painful but vital. I deeply regret that anyone, ever, felt less than supported, safe and fulfilled within my studio—but it is clear that some people did.” He affirmed his commitment to becoming a better employer. “Alongside my art,” he wrote, “this personal and professional growth is my main focus.”

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