Sotheby’s furloughed nearly 200 employees in response to COVID-19.

Justin Kamp
Apr 2, 2020 4:37PM, via Wall Street Journal

Sotheby’s specialists on phones with clients during an auction. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s furloughed 12 percent of its staff—roughly 200 employees—in response to the financial effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the art market, the Wall Street Journal reports. Employees in the U.S. and U.K. who have not been furloughed will receive a 20 percent pay cut until June 1st, and executives will take an additional 10 percent reduction. Overtime pay has also been temporarily suspended.

The cuts come shortly after the auction house postponed its marquee New York auctions, including the contemporary, Impressionist and modern, and American art sales, originally scheduled for the week of May 11th. The postponement aligns with similar decisions by Christie’s and Phillips, who rescheduled their spring sales two weeks ago. Sotheby’s has yet to announce new dates for the auctions, though they will likely take place in June alongside Christie’s and Phillips’s rescheduled sales.

Sotheby’s, which employs more than 1,700 people in 40 locations worldwide, closed its offices and salerooms on March 22nd, and has since shifted the majority of its auctions online. The firm’s first online-only auction of Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art closed on Tuesday, and it will hold online sales of contemporary and Impressionist and modern art from May 4th to the 15th.

The announcement comes as art world institutions around the world are facing furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs. Part-time employees at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art and UCLA’s Hammer Museum were laid off last week (most full-time staff has since been furloughed or taken pay cuts), and SFMOMA is expected to furlough more than 300 employees. At the same time, many institutions are moving online in order to mitigate the financial impact of mandatory closures. Art Basel in Hong Kong, Art Central, and the Biennale of Sydney moved their 2020 editions online, and Frieze New York is offering participants in its cancelled 2020 edition refunds and an option to display works online free of charge. David Zwirner opened its online viewing room platforms to 12 New York galleries free of charge, and Hauser & Wirth will donate 10 percent of all online profits to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Justin Kamp