Having largely avoided cutbacks in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic when its peers like Gagosian and Pace Gallery were furloughing employees, David Zwirner announced widespread layoffs this week that will amount to a nearly 20 percent decrease in the mega-gallery’s workforce.
The decision comes after nearly six months of watching Covid-19 shutter the global economy and listening to scientists who say business as normal will not resume until a vaccine is found. According to a gallery spokeswoman, David Zwirner expects to see an overall 30 percent drop in sales by year’s end, forcing the mega-gallery to eliminate nearly 40 jobs across its six locations worldwide, in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong, with the majority of the layoffs impacting the gallery’s U.S. staff.
“We avoided layoffs until July 1 because I wanted to understand how business has changed through the first two quarters of 2020. Now, close analysis of our business over the last six months has brought to light profound changes that I believe will not revert to the old normal until there is a vaccine or treatment,” Zwirner, who has not taken a salary during lockdown, told ARTnews in a statement. “The staff reductions are a function of the changed nature of our business and the near total disappearance of traditional workloads in certain departments. This is unprecedented territory for the gallery, and I will help our former colleagues through this period as much as possible, including providing health insurance for the next six months, until the end of the year, given that this pandemic is nowhere near under control.”
Though its projected fortunes are diminished, the gallery expects to remain profitable for the year. Layoffs are occurring amid a shifted understanding of how the art market must adapt to the pandemic. The bulk of eliminated jobs have come from departments that handle events, installations, and art fairs. In 2019, the gallery hosted 84 events across its galleries; this year, the count has dropped to 23 and executives have no plans to add more.
Looking ahead, David Zwirner now plans to continue expanding its online empire, even as its physical locations begin to reopen. A spokeswoman said to expect staff losses to decrease to about 15 percent as it hires new employees for its digital marketing efforts and client development.
“As of July 6, all galleries will again be accessible to the public, in a limited capacity and in accordance with all recommended health and safety precautions. But we’ve learned over the last six months that certain areas of our business have gone dormant,” said the spokeswoman. “At the same time, we have seen extraordinary growth in our online business, where we have ramped up presentations, exhibitions, programming, and sales significantly.”
For laid-off employees, Zwirner is offering health insurance through the end of the year and a minimum severance of four weeks’ pay, adjusted relative to tenure.