Wet Paint: Top Galleries Begin Making Layoffs, Basel’s Trois Rois Hotel Is Already Sold Out for September, and More Art-World Gossip

What mega-museum director was not social distancing in Central Park? What major Jeff Koons show was pushed back a year? Read on for answers.

A graph shows the numbers, minutes after the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 19, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. - Wall Street stocks fell again early Thursday as central banks unveiled new stimulus measures and US jobless claims showed an initial hit from the slowdown generated by the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Each week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected].



The last time a global recession hit, dozens of galleries in Chelsea closed and the number of global art fairs was halved. Evening sales at auction houses grossed a third of what they had a year earlier. Even Gagosian, the world’s biggest network of art galleries, wasn’t immune. In a November 2008 memo that was widely circulated in the press, Larry Gagosian told his staff that “if you would like to continue working for Gagosian I suggest you start to sell some art.” The memo concluded in a chilling or galvanizing fashion, depending on your disposition: “The general economy and also the art economy is clearly headed for some choppy waters; I want to make sure that we are the best swimmers on the block,” Gago wrote. “The luxury of carrying under-performing employees is now a thing of the past.”

Due to the economic crisis unleashed by the coronavirus crisis, we’re once again clearly headed for some choppy waters. And while by all accounts Gagosian staffers are safe for the moment, sources said that employees deemed inessential at some other art-market powerhouses will be laid off or furloughed until the gallery spaces reopen. According to sources, Los Angeles’s Kayne Griffin Corcoran laid off several staffers, including some in leadership positions. (A spokesperson for the gallery declined to comment.)

Lévy Gorvy, which has galleries in New York, London, and Hong Kong, furloughed a number of employees but said that there would be no further cuts for at least the next year. When reached on the phone, gallery co-founder Dominique Lévy said, “We’ve decided to temporarily furlough a very small number of people and we’re committed to bringing them back in 90 days, because some employees cannot work remotely. We hope that these are temporary measures, and they are necessary so our worldwide team can focus moving forward.”

The exterior of David Kordansky Gallery. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery.

And late Thursday, a tipster reached out to say that David Kordansky Gallery had laid off a number of staffers, effective immediately. When reached for comment, the gallery said, “This week we made the difficult decision to let go members of our team while the gallery is closed under Los Angeles’s ‘Safer at Home’ order, the majority of which were part-time and freelance employees. We hope to re-engage many of these individuals as the business moves forward in the coming weeks and months.”

As for who’s getting the axe, for the most part, the layoffs and furloughs affect operational staffers, not salespeople—mostly because, as one source put it, “they aren’t spending money on business-class tickets and hotels, so if they sell something, they pay for themselves.”

Meanwhile, Frieze‘s parent company, Endeavor, announced that it would lay off 250 staffers who could not perform their jobs remotely. It’s not clear if the cuts will result in any departures from Frieze Fairs or Frieze’s media publications, but in a letter to his employees, Endeavor co-founder Ari Emanuel said that they “will affect compensation and some jobs across the company”—indicating that Frieze, like all divisions, is on the table. (It was reported that talent agents, the who still form one of the company’s core businesses, will not be laid off.)

Art-adjacent enterprises have begun to suffer as well. W, the art and culture magazine, furloughed all but a skeleton crew of people to maintain its website, and restauranteur Danny Meyer—who owns Untitled at The Whitney and The Modern at MoMA—laid off 80 percent of his staffers, nearly 2,000 people. Although there is some hope that Congress’s new stimulus package might help small businesses secure loans that will enable them to stave off layoffs, it is likely that more cuts are still to come.



Photo: Marco Funke, courtesy Gallery Weekend Berlin

Photo: Marco Funke, courtesy Gallery Weekend Berlin

On Thursday morning, Art Basel announced that, for the first time in its 50-plus years, its flagship fair will take place not in the summertime, but in September, a postponement that was necessary due to the, well, you know what we’re talking about at this point. This matters for a number of reasons, most prominently: White asparagus won’t be in season! (Then again, the fall clime is slightly more amenable to annual fondue dinners.) But while insiders (and readers of this column) were aware of the move to September for some time, the exact week wasn’t known—and the one they picked, September 14–20, presents some issues for other rescheduled programming. Perhaps the shindig in the biggest pickle is Gallery Weekend Berlin, which was set to go down the first weekend in May before switching to the second weekend in September, from the 11th to the 13th. Now, that weekend is the one preceding Art Basel—meaning that, if tradition is to be followed, it will also be Zurich Gallery Weekend. And you can’t be in Germany and Switzerland at the same time! What’s more, there are nearly 40 Berlin galleries that need to be in Basel to install their fair booths, and a few more showing at Liste, which opens that Monday. In previous years, exhibitors have arrived as early as Friday if they have to put together a project for Art Basel Unlimited, which also opens Monday—meaning that this year, they will miss the Friday night exhibitors’ dinner in Berlin, often the highlight of le weekend. We hear participants in the three-day Gallery Weekend spree—which costs €4,000 to participate—are already petitioning the board to move it back a week.



The Grand Hotel Trois Rois, referred to colloquially as the Three Kings. Photo courtesy: Leading Hotels of the World.

Speaking of Art Basel, it’s impossible to mention the expo without thinking of its most important social nexus, the Le Grand Hotel Trois Rois—that’s The Three Kings to all you non-francophones—recently described by no lesser eminence than the Grey Lady as “one of the oldest and finest city hotels in Europe.” Wet Paint agrees heartily! Which is why, minutes after the fair’s new dates were announced, we went to inquire about a room… only to find that not only is the new Art Basel week already sold out, but the entire month of September is booked solid. How is this possible? Well, sources say that collectors and advisors, unclear on which week of September would be the new Basel dates, went ahead and booked a room for the entire month, perfectly OK with eating the steep cancellation fees. So, no rooms for us—but we’ll have plenty of martinis at the bar, priced at 35 Swiss Francs each.



Deste Slaughterhouse at dusk. Photo courtesy Nate Freeman.

Jeff Koons is newly active on social media, with his Instagram and Twitter accounts lighting up with some of his classic works from the past, along with some wacky captions where Koons applies his can-do attitude to the increasingly dire pandemic situation. (Here is a sample caption accompanying an image of his Popeye sculpture: “We can defeat this challenge as a global community. Stop the coronavirus! #coronavirus #defeat #stainlesssteel #art”) But when it comes to seeing new works by Koons in person, it’s gonna be a little longer than anticipated. Due to the global health crisis, the opening of a new Koons project at the DESTE Foundation Projectspace Slaughterhouse—the pilgrimage-worthy art space on the Greek island of Hydra founded by collector Dakis Joannou—will no longer be held in June, and will instead take place following Art Basel’s Swiss fair in the summer of 2021. Plan your island-hopping accordingly.



All of New York’s restaurants are closed (or converting to takeout-only) until further notice, and the reality is, many of them will never fully reopen for business again. With no income, layoffs are imminent, and if a space gets too much in the red, it can’t recover. And while the entire hospitality industry needs desperate help, we’re going to highlight two art boîtes that, if they closed, would have a crushing affect on the health of New York’s art scene. So, please donate to the GoFundMe for Lucien, the art-world institution in the East Village, which is trying to raise $100,000 to support its staff during the shutdown. Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg gave $500—you can give a few bucks, too! Also, open your wallets and help contribute the GoFundMe for Bacaro, the Venetian joint on the Lower East Side that’s been feeding gallerists and artists for over a decade. They’re also trying to raise $100,000 to keep staffers paid. The artist Tom Burr gave $100! How cool is that! Now—assuming you are still getting paid and can afford to help out—it’s your turn.



What better time for a quiz than when you are sitting around at home? Here it is: Name this work and its owner. Bonus points for identifying the institution where it was on loan when this picture was taken.

While we wish we could offer up dinner on the house at Minetta Tavern, like the wonderful Keith McNally is doing with his Instagram pop quizzes, the winner will instead get instant fame via a shout-out in the next edition of Wet Paint.



Dan Colen delivering the goods. Photo courtesy Instagram.

A number of coronavirus-afflicted members of the art world are trying to trace the contagion back to the source, and many have wondered if they got it at a certain gallery dinner held at the fêted artist’s Pepto-colored house on the West Side of Manhattan … in response to former Christie’s rainmaker Loïc Gouzer posting a note on Instagram about how “we ignored the CORONAVIRUS warning signs the same way we are ignoring the CLIMATE CHANGE warning signs,” Art Cologne director Daniel Hug commented, “Stop flying your private jets, start taking some responsibility” … Gladstone Gallery has given the keys to its official Instagram to its artists, and Amy Sillman was up first, posting works and homemade memes including a manic diagram stuffed with of-the-moment scream-voice aphorisms like “NETFLIX AND FREAK OUT” and “HOUSEPARTY.COM? REALLY? THAT’S WHAT HUMANS HAVE COME UP WITH??” … Dan Colen‘s Sky High Farm in the Hudson Valley town of Pine Plains gave pork, brisket, and a nice-looking loaf he calls “sourdough olive oil sweet potato challah” to The Table at Woodstock, a food bank in the hippie-tinged Catskills town … Dimes Square might be shut down (we miss it desperately) but the resident pirate transmissions of Montez Press Radio will still be on the air, with a live edition of Bad Masterpieces—a show hosted by the writer Dean Kissick and yours truly—that will air at 9:00 p.m. Saturday, and you can tune in here



Met director Max Hollein, as spotted by an eagle-eyed Kenny Schachter, sauntering through Central Park standing not-quite-six-feet away from passersby *** playwright and art-world darling Jeremy O. Harris posting evidence of his star-studded correspondence while in isolation, wherein he jumped on a Houseparty with the actor Lee Pace and was graced by the video chat presence of Michael Shannon, who has thoughts about Tom Brady‘s move to Tampa Bay *** Writer Carlo McCormick in an old picture posted to Instagram by the legendary Lower East Side art bar Max Fish, wherein the art critic brought along Johnny Depp as his drinking buddy ***


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