This afternoon, more than 25 employees at Pace Gallery were informed over the phone that their positions had been furloughed through mid-August because of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the art market. The furloughs account for roughly a quarter of the staff at the gallery’s flagship New York location.
The announcement from Pace—one of the world’s top biggest art galleries, with spaces in six cities on three continents—demonstrates the degree to which the Covid-19 outbreak has hampered regular operations and forced belt-tightening measures for even the wealthiest blue-chip dealers. The news also comes as other industry leaders, including auction houses like Sotheby’s, boast about robust online sales bringing in millions of dollars in profits.
Pace’s furloughs come as other galleries begin to institute layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts. A representative for Lévy Gorvy, a top gallery that has spaces in New York, Hong Kong, London, and Zurich, also confirmed that furloughs had been instituted. Meanwhile, major auction houses have also been affected. Sotheby’s furloughed 12 percent of its workforce last week, and Christie’s said it will begin furloughing workers based in Europe.
In a statement, Marc Glimcher, the president and CEO of Pace, said, “With a heavy heart we are temporarily furloughing a number of our employees this week, with the strong expectation that we will bring them back as soon as possible. This painful decision came after making every non-personnel related cut we could, which has included drastically reducing the salaries of the most senior people either to the minimum or entirely. These are unprecedented and extremely challenging times and no one should imagine that art galleries are any less affected financially than other businesses.”
For Pace staff members who have lost their jobs, learning about their newfound unemployment was almost as shattering and life-altering as the disease itself. “I’m going to try for unemployment,” said one former worker, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation. “But I’m still going to have to leave New York City. I just can’t afford to live here anymore.”
“I’m kind of in limbo,” said another worker. “I’m receiving one more paycheck from Pace, and hopefully that will help me pay next month’s rent. Then we will see what happens next.”
High earners at Pace Gallery are also taking temporary salary cuts, though a spokesperson would not disclose specific figures. Glimcher, the company’s president and chief executive officer, and his father Arne Glimcher, the gallery’s founder, have suspended their salaries entirely.
For more than a month, freelancers and employees at Pace Gallery have received mixed messages about whether they would receive payment during the enterprise’s Covid-19 closure in New York. In late March, the gallery told ARTnews that it would continue to offer wages for as long as possible. The newly announced furloughs impact nearly one-quarter of the dealer’s workforce in the United States across all departments. The decision amounts to a roughly 25 percent reduction in the gallery’s New York team, which accounts for the majority of the furloughs.
Only a few days ago, Glimcher wrote for ARTnews about contracting the coronavirus disease and how his experience battling it shifted his perspective on the art market. “At the moment, we have no choice but to be in the business of the present—and to reconsider the viability of certain unsustainable practices,” he wrote, “the pricing, the overpromotion, the travel, the relentless catering to the lowest instincts of speculators, the ballooning overheads, the mutually destructive competition, the engineered auction records, and the desperate search for capital to burn, just to prove that you can burn it.”
Given his essay on surviving the illness, employees were caught off-guard when Glimcher announced the furloughs. “I’d like to say I’m disappointed, but I’m not,” said one worker. “Their platitudes are what is most insulting. All that talk of ‘family’ could not ring more hollow right now.”
Meanwhile, David Zwirner, another gallery of Pace’s caliber, said that it has currently not planned layoffs or furloughs for any of its locations. “There are zero layoffs across all of our galleries, and we are trying to keep it that way,” its eponymous founder said in a statement. “As for furloughs, we are participating in the subsidized furlough programs offered by the U.K. and French governments. Let me repeat: no layoffs.”