“Why is that a story? No offense…” my cousin James, a nurse in Pittsburgh, asked after I told him that while on the phone I received an interview request from The New York Times, a publication that previously would not touch me or Filthy Dreams with, to quote a Doug Stanhope bit, a barge pole. “None taken,” I answered. “Isn’t it over?”
It wasn’t. It isn’t.
It being the shitstorm I started an exact week previous from that call on February 16, which has culminated in countless clickbait articles, exposés on artist Tom Sachs and his former Gagosian gallerist wife Sarah Hoover, and tepid Nike responses on their deep “concern” about the “serious allegations” of Sachs’s abusive treatment of employees. I did this unexpectedly. Unintentionally. I didn’t mean anything by it! Like any weekday, I woke up, talked to my parents, ran, and settled in, sweat-stained and grubby in a cruddy NYU sweatshirt, to laze around before working up the energy to shower. Sometimes this process takes a while and, in that time, I mindlessly scroll online. That day, I drifted onto NYFA’s job listings, a site many will understand being addicted to if you’ve ever at any point been unemployed or underemployed in the arts. Mostly, I like to track the same shit Gallery Assistant positions that go online over and over again, typically every six months so the gallery can avoid paying an employee’s health benefits. And that’s where I saw it. Executive Assistant. Art World Family. Much has been made—here and elsewhere—of this delusionally penned laundry list of systemic tasks, from “dog systems” to “closet systems,” so I’ll just share I cackled, sent it to a few people, and then, switched over to Twitter to post the link.
As usual, when I mock the art world with such a fervor that most in the arts industry avoid out of fear of blacklisting, retribution, reputation ruining, or any other sort of personal responsibility, a worry I shrug off as I do not make income from the high echelons of the art world nor do I want anything to do with it, the tweet garnered quite a bit of attention. Much of it from my clique of regular Twitter art friends, most of whom I don’t know outside of this platform (Thanks Elon!). Understanding, though, how our media ecosystem works, particularly arts journalism, which seems absent of any ethical qualms about swiping ideas from others’ social media posts, I rapidly marathoned writing a post here on Filthy Dreams about the worst art job ever created, taking my other cousin Cara’s suggestion to simply mock the listing directly with reaction GIFs. Done and done. Easy-peasy. I expected a surge of Filthy Dreams reads that would, like always, die down.
And it would have (partially) if I hadn’t responded to the aforementioned Times interview request, which sent me reeling and dragged under into a riptide of virality within which I got an unwitting glimpse into the unendingly embarrassing hellscape of contemporary journalism. A field that is now simply an endless game of telephone: articles based on other articles, which are based on other articles, which are based on social media posts, which are based on…and some of these journalists, desperate and ravenous for engagement, have clearly not even bothered to read not only the original content but the subsequent articles they reference.
Now, I know what you thinking: Emily, there are many other moving parts of this story more important than your personal bone to pick with the sad state of journalism. What about the treatment of employees at Tom Sachs’s studio? Well, I’d argue that faulty journalism is a key part of that puzzle too as journalists cranked out years upon years of fluff features about the studio referencing its cult-like quality as if it was some adorable twee Wes Anderson quirk rather than a glaring red flag. This includes The New York Times, which opened a 2022 article by quoting Sachs on cults: “A cult just means—when you look it up—it just means a group of people with idiosyncratic and shared values…Everyone’s welcome to leave when they want.” Whooo-kay! Add to this his branded Nikes that look like an even blander version of Heaven’s Gate’s chosen footwear to the beyond and I think this might be what you call a warning sign. You can’t act shocked now…And perhaps this is why the Times, when they spoke to me, did not seem all that interested in naming Sachs and Hoover as the writers of the Art World Family job listing, even though Filthy Dreams commenters and private conversations I held with ex-employees fingered Sachs as the writer as early as February 17 (as well as fellow tweeter Peter Huestis pinning it on Sachs from a “secret source” earlier than anyone on February 16).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because the media circus of the past month (or so) has been so amusing, enraging, clownish—and just so telling about the state of journalism, a field that I feel increasingly horrified by and at odds with, I am compelled to share that entire experience with you, dearest beloved readers, here on Filthy Dreams—the place where it all began! This way you can also laugh, be taken aback, and realize that you should probably be more than a tad wary of what you read as facts diminish in importance to engagement at whatever cost. Typically, this clash with virality is kept silent in the hopes, I assume, of staying on the good side of media for the next brush with rag-driven fame. But as should be clear, I don’t give a fuck. I need to expel the bile so I can move on to other things. Consider this my own wordier version of Nick Cave’s petty journalism diss track “Scum.” Wordier because there’s value in drawing out each ridiculous turn of the mindless soulless merry-go-round that is contemporary journalism.
Now, the worst job listing was not at all the first time Filthy Dreams has been the mining ground for other journalists’ content. It happens quite a lot. Sometimes credited, sometimes not. The latter was the case with one Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital Arts Writers grantee who wrote me a waffling email a day or so before her winning announcement to explain she HAD, in fact, read the article I accused her of plagiarizing months earlier but she didn’t plagiarize me. She also noted the publication she wrote for “has zero fact checking or any real editorial back-and-forth…But I am not into passing the buck.” Ok! Other publications have credited Filthy Dreams, but it doesn’t make the quality of the writing much better, mostly just regurgitated content pumped out as quickly as possible for hits. The most recent—before this shitstorm—was in November 2022 when my essay “What the Hell Is Going on at Trump Tower?” got picked up by a publication called Whiskey Raiders that, then, became the source for another cranked-out piece by Uproxx. My Twitter feed, too, has frequently been the subject of “People on Twitter Are Saying…”-type trash. The most comical comes from W Magazine, which asserted, “People Are Confusing Banksy’s New NYC Mural For One of Selena Gomez.” The only problem was that “people” was just me. Only me.
Because of this, I will give the Times some props here. They were the first publication (at least in my memory) who have actually approached me rather than simply plucking my work off Filthy Dreams, chewing it up and vomiting it back up onto the Internet like a digital owl pellet. This is one of the reasons I actually agreed to the interview—hesitatingly, mind you. The other being it could be hilarious. The interview itself began with some basic housekeeping, including asking me when I started Filthy Dreams. “2013,” I responded. Silence. “Sorry for being late to the party” was the answer. Well, welcome! The date of our founding is right there on the website, but whatever. This lack of basic diligence didn’t bode well, but apart from needling at my fragile ego, the interview—and the resulting article—was fine. And I mean, fine—not great. The article itself reads as a breezy piece better suited for Buzzfeed than the supposed newspaper of record, but if the Trump years taught us anything, the Times is as fixated on engagement over content as anyone else. The most head-scratching part of the piece was its timing. Published on Sunday, February 26, a full ten days after the whole ordeal, the job listing had been pulled from NYFA and the Times themselves, at the time, weren’t interested in digging into the Sachs/Hoover thread begging to be pulled. The news, at least to me, seemed over. Done. Tired. Spent.
If the Times didn’t realize the joke was over, a mob of other media outlets, from The Daily Mail to The New York Post (my daily reading) to, apparently, BBC 4, swarmed the story in the Times’ wake to hammer the punchline right into the ground. What some of you, dearest readers, may not know is that I approve all the comments on this humble blog, including notifications from articles that hyperlinked us. Meaning the 27th was a day filled with not only approving joking comments from Times readers, harangues about how all assistant jobs are like this and millennials (who are almost 40, by the way) should suck it up, and commiserating from former Sachs employees. I also spent it deleting repetitive notifications from every single bottom-feeding lamprey media outlet from around the globe. Some of these appeared to be translating the writing of other publications and retranslating them so that Filthy Dreams transformed into a publication called Grimy Desires, which I think has a certain ring to it. More so than Newser‘s reinterpretation: Filthy Minds. These are just the publications that named us outright and threw us a link. There was one notable art publication that didn’t in several articles. *cough* Artnews, whose Cheerios I apparently pissed on at some point. It may have been my recent Cumwizard69420 review where I said, “ArtNews is not company Filthy Dreams has ever wanted to keep.”
Some of the more prominent publications, to their credit, contacted me directly for comment. This included the UK-based The Times and The Independent, who I should emphasize were unquestionably the most professional of all the journalists. Others slipped into a state of acute psychosis in trying to get a quote from me by any means possible. The worst being the producer for Canada’s CBC Radio who emailed both my personal account and Filthy Dreams, as well as DM-ed my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. At this point, it felt like journalistic terrorism. And I don’t negotiate with terrorists. My silence, here, also had to do with a mini-meltdown I had by the 28th, spending most of the day in bed reading Barry Adamson’s memoir Up Above the City Down Beneath the Stars, floating off to the utopia of…Manchester in a spell of film noir accounts of Magazine, the Bad Seeds, and his envy-worthy articulation of music to try to avoid losing touch with reality completely. I was done speaking to the media.
I was not finished, however, noticing the beginnings of the erasure of Filthy Dreams from our own story, an inclination that would snowball as more and more publications ripped each other off. It started the day after the Times article when the Daily Beast’s “news reporter” snatched content straight from the Times for a paragraph-long article, claiming, “Art World Mocks Crazy Demands in Worst Job Listing Ever.” Apparently, I am the art world now. The article, if you can call it that, details, “A viral job listing for an ‘Executive/Personal Assistant’ to an unnamed ‘Art World Family’ has been dubbed ‘Worst Art Job Listing Ever Created’ because of its hilariously unrealistic laundry list of requirements.” Notice the specific passive phrase here—“has been dubbed.” By who? The answer comes in the second sentence: “The ad, which was quickly taken down but preserved for posterity by the Filthy Dreams blog…” Suddenly, Filthy Dreams has morphed from the publication that coined the phrase in a mocking post to the slobs that merely were Internet-literate enough to save a PDF. Saving the job listing became, in the eyes of journalists, 1. a heroic action worthy of mind-blowingly hyperbolic terms and 2. a perfect way to shove me aside for their own claims of breaking news. This culminated, at least in February (there was more to come), with ArtNet News shoving Filthy Dreams multiple paragraphs down and misspelling my name (typos being part and parcel of Artnet as they also recently spelled Pittsburgh without the h. Unforgivable.) in their big bombshell reveal: the job listing, in fact, came from Tom Sachs and Sarah Hoover. *GASP*
Then…that became the narrative—Artnet got the scoop, partially because of their discovery twist in the headline: “Which A-List Art Power Couple Was Behind That Absurd, Now-Viral Ad for an Assistant? We Found Out.” Only this was already clear to anyone reading our comment section at least 12 days earlier. A fact I’m certain Artnet knows considering they quote the comments in the article. That, however, was lost on several subsequent articles that only refer to Artnet as the major breaker of the Sachs/Hoover mystery, including the LA Times. In doing so, they’ve erased an enormous part of the story, which is the ex-Sachs employees who flocked to our comment section to air their rightful grievances. A few of the ex-employees I’ve spoken to mentioned this was the first public forum where they’ve been able to vent out their experiences since most of the coverage of Sachs has been gushing praise or Reddit fanboy fanaticism. THEY broke the Sachs story. Not me. Not Artnet. This is key–turns out when you abuse staff for years on end, churning out employees every few months to years, it comes back to haunt you.
And it did. Once other publications got a whiff of the bad boss tales both in the comment section and on Artnet, another feeding frenzy began, as journalists dreamt up their Ronan Farrow/Harvey Weinstein fantasies. Pulitzer prizes! HBO documentaries! Book deals! Film rights! Some of these journalists frenziedly logged onto Filthy Dreams where they replied to the mostly anonymous commenters, including a journalist from New York Magazine who included not only her email but phone number. Lady! You might be new around here, but do you know who reads Filthy Dreams?! The criminally insane! Like any good moderator, I deleted these comments—I’m not going to be the one responsible when you get heavy-breathing crank calls in the middle of the night. I did so with full awareness that there would be repercussions. This likely came in the form of being obliterated entirely from the narrative in their March 13 Tom Sachs exposé in Curbed, which opened with the job listing saga only citing the New York Times’ coverage and Artnet’s shocker reveal. I’m not the only one who detected this as several people on Twitter pointed out my absence. And look. I know this seems petty and narcissistic, yet at the same time, do they have editors over there at Curbed? Because not getting the timeline of the saga right seems to put the rest of your journalistic integrity into question—something that probably shouldn’t happen in an article filled with anonymous ex-employees largely speaking vaguely out of fear of breaking an extensive NDA. From here, naturally, several publications picked up on the story with their own interviews, including an infinitely better article in Hyperallergic and Artnet. Most recently and comically, The New York Times ignored its own story to credit Curbed as the start of the Sachs shitstorm while coyly titling the piece in reference to the job listing, “Who Is The Bad Art Boss?” What the fuck. Do you talk to each other in the Times newsroom? Or, like, read?
Not that I’m doubting the ex-employees’ stories. They told me many of the same. What was I doing talking to the employees? I wasn’t all that sure, but they reached out to me almost immediately after the Filthy Dreams post. Mostly I wanted to do right by them because it was clear they had been fucked over and many of them were completely turned off by the thought of art. Another journalist from the New Yorker, who also attempted journalism in the Filthy Dreams comment section, sent me an enthusiastic-to-the-level-of-manic email dangling the possibility of collaborating on a story. But, when I approached him a week later after having talked to several employees, he promptly said he’d talk to his editor and disappeared. Shocker. Which is just as well since most of the on-the-record info was basically what the other articles reveal. Verbal abuse. Throwing things that could have blown up the entire building. A nightmarish workplace hierarchy with an inner circle that did his bidding and doled out “punishments.” Manipulative behavior. Knolling. Running errands for Sarah despite working in the studio. Organizing a studio like a cult (except it isn’t a cult. Charlie Manson didn’t have to pay anyone).
Perhaps the biggest tip that something wasn’t quite right at the studio is his employee handbook, which is even funnier than the Art World Family job listing and easily identifiable as the same writer due to the systems and grammatical errors. This guidebook includes deranged sections about how to ask Tom questions (On stupid questions: “A. Don’t. B. Don’t even think them; Tom’s can sometimes read minds. Plus, stupid thoughts often lead to stupid faces; Tom’s do not like these either”), organize food systems (“It is your job to make sure that Tom does not get hungry. And if he does get hungry, get him food quickly and smoothly”), and be a ninja (“The ninja uses stealth and selective espionage to survive in unpredictable conditions. You must become ninja. When Tom is working, thinking, eating, walking with purpose, or otherwise engaged, you must avoid him. Absolutely never speak to him unless spoken to first. No eye contact. No loud noises or sudden, jerky movements. You must center yourself. You must humble yourself. You must master the art of becoming shadow. You must become ninja”). My favorite of the lot, though, is a section on how to return items to Amazon: “If pressured, tell them a defining flaw in the product that could never be proven. Such as the color was not as expected, or the dimensions were slightly off. The more expensive the item, the more weaseling the return process will require. For example, use a caliper to show the rounded dimensions of the product listed on the website slightly differ then the product you purchased for your highly specialized need.”
I mean, noted!
The handbook is great for a laugh, sure (and the Sachs studio did try to shove it off as a joke to Curbed), but it’s certainly not all that surprising that Sachs was an exploitative boss, one of many in an industry built on the exploitation of young, underpaid staff. At some point, overwhelmed with my own brush with virality, even though I was on the side of the angels (this time), I started feeling a little bad for Sachs and Hoover as they’re not the only monsters in this living nightmare of an industry. This is a point I tried to make clear in my initial post, but got lost somewhere along the way. A wider conversation has to be conducted about class, namely how the wealthy are able to treat people seen as expendable and less-than, and most of all, why an industry that spends a lot of energy feigning the “right” politics allows this to go on. It’s made pretty clear by the way the fashion and sneaker community seems more up in arms about Sachs’s treatment of employees than the art world. But, part of that wider conversation also has to be about the press that perpetuates the myth of a singular genius who is allowed to coalesce a gaggle of underlings to tend to his every whim—in service of the ART. Rather than treating artists as if they’re working a job just like anyone else. But if you start questioning that, then you may start questioning why some work is worth so damn much. Best not touch that third rail.
Which makes the foam-at-the-mouth ravenous need for publications to each have their own Sachs takedown a bit intriguing. One just has to read any of the previous articles that interpret his clearly unhinged behavior as whimsy or look at his artwork with references to indoctrination or his Space Program dry cum powder to see that all wasn’t right in the Soho paradise of the Sachs studio. As I recognized as soon as I started doing research on the couple after they got fingered as the Art World Family. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Tom Sachs or Sarah Hoover before this shitstorm. I still don’t. His art wasn’t my cup of tea so I just avoided it. But, the articles I did find in the storm’s wake were, um, troubling. Take Vogue’s piece on lunchtime at the Sachs studio, which details all the employees wearing matching uniforms and eating Louis Armstrong’s red beans and rice recipe together. Everything was so eerily choreographed that the article concludes with: “When the meal is finished, silence falls and the final choreography ensues—forks are dropped in unison into a center enamelware dish that is circulated counterclockwise to receive any last scraps of food, each plate stacked on top of the last. Tom looks at me and reiterates, ‘Feeding oneself can, of course, be an art, but sometimes we just have to get it out of the way.’” Whooo-kay! This comes off as an elaborate staged performance (kind of like the ones Jim Jones would do for visiting press at Jonestown)—and was according to an anonymous employee I spoke to. So…what is the role of journalism in pretending that this daily meal is how the Tom Sachs lunchtime actually goes? And what of the first aid cross in the photo that we now know was, at least at one time according to the photograph in Curbed, a swastika? Did Vogue Photoshop it out?
Notably, the puff pieces on Sarah Hoover weren’t any better as they lauded her hilariously ironic juxtaposition of malignant narcissism with social justice and feminist rhetoric, including her book on motherhood from a person who has a whole staff raising her child. With this kind of ass-kissing journalism, is it any wonder that public figures who get canceled are so shocked by it? The entire system has been set up to praise them for their every action, unless, of course, publications see profit and clicks in taking them down.
And this is all concerning as I’ve come out the other side of this entire experience questioning if I can really trust anything I read. Of course, I always treated press with a heavy dose of skepticism, but now I’ve experienced the proof firsthand that it really is mostly bullshit peddled desperately by media organizations who realize their relevancy has waned and that the only way to grab eyeballs is to feed outrage culture through a parasitic relationship with social media virality. And if you have to twist the truth just a tad to make it look like you broke the story, so be it. It’s not lost on me that in the middle of this, I was also watching Matt Taibbi get called a “so-called journalist” in front of Congress by Stacey Plaskett. Independent writers are seen as unreliable loners who cannot play on the team—whether that is towing the party line for Democrats or Republicans or agreeing to keep quiet when major publications monetize content off the back of a humble blog. Yet after everything I’ve seen, why in the world would any self-respecting writer want to be a part of these, well, systems?
I certainly don’t.