Tom Sachs Offers A Half-Apology For Allegedly Toxic Studio Culture

In a statement to the New York Times Wednesday, artist Tom Sachs attempted to apologize for the work conditions at his studio. The statement followed an investigation by Curbed published in March alleging that Sachs’ studio assistants were being hazed and harassed in a variety of ways.

Sachs told the Times he has taken some time for “overdue reflection” and has found that he “deeply regret[s] that anyone, ever, felt less than supported, safe and fulfilled within my studio,” but continues to deny that he intentionally created an environment that caused distress to his employees.

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BEAVERTON, OR - SEPTEMBER 08: Eric Koston, Mark Parker and Tom Sachs at NIKE, Inc on September 8, 2022 in Beaverton, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images for NIKE, Inc.)

“Over my 30-year career I have never harassed anyone, or tried to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” he wrote before adding that he is planning on overhauling the culture at the studio.

The studio, and how Sachs ran it, has often been a focus of his art. In a video he made with frequent collaborator Van Neistat titled 10 Bullets (2010) and exhibited at the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, Sachs documented the laws of his studio in a twee, Wes Anderson-type style. In the video, he compares himself to the tyrannical Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, narrating how Hartman teaches his lieutenants how to “adhere to the system of production already in place,” over a clip of the movie. “Arbitrary decision making and personal inventiveness are discouraged.”

Sachs was known for running his studio, and his life, using a variety of strict system that studio assistants and personal employees had to stick by religiously. It was this reference to “systems” that led some art world insiders to suspect Sachs as the person behind an anonymous assistant position posted by an “art world couple” that went viral for being exceptionally demanding.

In 2017, Sachs made another video about his studio titled The Hero’s Journey which showed at an exhibition that doubled as the premiere of his new Nike sneaker. The video showed an aspiring apprentice quitting her boring office job and arriving at the Tom Sachs studio. She is met with an indoctrination test in which she acts out of variety of tasks, like cutting plywood and gluing things. At one point, the apprentice is tied up and fake $100 bills are blown into her face as Sachs narrates.

“Though she has not yet completed her journey the street scum now possess extraordinary powers,” he says. “Monied sirens attempt to lure her from her path but the true hero inside her resists, for she is bound by a nameless force to a profound duty she does not fully comprehend.”

Sachs had a famously intimate, artistic relationship with the way he ran his studio, and part of the culture was to make his assistants kowtow to the elaborate world he had created there. While the films outline Sachs’ code in a cheeky tone, former employees took pains to explain to Curbed what Sachs felt it took to make sure employees adhered to that code, which they allege included name-calling, throwing things, creating a culture of competition by bestowing gifts on favorites, and other forms of hazing.

This New York Times interview with Sachs recalls another recent article that drew ire, “Liz Holmes Wants You To Forget About Elizabeth.” Commentators pointed out that the Times has a history of aiding powerful people in their quest to launder their tainted reputations. In the case of Holmes, she insisted that she was no longer a criminal, but a mother.

Sachs’ statement to the Times, meanwhile, skirts any real apology and fails to address how he actually intends to overhaul the allegedly abusive studio culture given his unwillingness to admit to harassment and that its culture was central to his artistic practice and lifestyle.

Last week, Nike appeared to signal that it is no longer working with Sachs, with whom he has designed multiple sneakers over the years.

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