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The Coronavirus Economy: The commercial art world’s adjustment to a digital reality

April 6, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

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As organizations across all industries try to figure out how to conduct business in this era of physical and social distancing, Gagosian, the largest global art gallery, had already been planning virtual ventures for months—starting in Hong Kong and then at its exhibition spaces in Europe, and now at its galleries in the United States.

After closing its 18 exhibition spaces across the globe, Gagosian is launching an online sales initiative through the gallery’s digital program to support its artists, who have spent years creating new works and preparing for exhibitions that were scheduled to open this spring. The first initiative, Artist Spotlight, launches April 8, highlighting a new artist and artwork each week. Expanded editorial programming will provide insights into the artist’s practice and influences through videos, interviews, photo essays, and even lists of their favorite songs or books.

Fortune spoke with Andrew Fabricant—who first worked at the New York–based gallery from 1983 to 1996, and rejoined in the role of chief operating officer in September 2018—about the gallery’s efforts to adjust to new realities for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy. The following Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Andrew Fabricant is chief operating officer at Gagosian, a global network of galleries specializing in modern and contemporary art.
Emma Rose Milligan—Courtesy Gagosian.

Fortune: What is your business normally like this time of year? What did a typical day or week look like before this happened?

Fabricant: The business was spread globally between our 18 galleries, meaning I was traveling nearly all the time to support the exhibition schedule of our artists, worldwide. Needless to say, the enormous social component of the art business (openings, dinners, etc.) has been entirely compromised due to this scourge. 

When did you realize that the outbreak of COVID-19 was going to affect your business? How has it so far?

I had a brief intuition during my trip to Tokyo in January the week before Chinese Lunar New Year. The Japanese were extremely wary of the nearly 400,000 Chinese who were expected to be in Tokyo the coming weekend for the holiday break. I sensed something was up, but I don’t think anyone had an inkling of just how much this would affect our lives, let alone the art business. 

Given that all nonessential businesses are closed for the foreseeable future, what kinds of measures are art galleries taking to showcase their work in the meantime? 

The key is to adapt, which we have by continuing to manage the strength of our reputation and the deep-bench talent of our artists to maximum effect. 

When this is all over, what do you think it will take for the art industry to fully recover? And how much time do you think that would require?

We are extremely enthusiastic about an Artist Spotlight series, which we will unveil through our website on Wednesday, April 8. Each Wednesday, we will highlight a new artist through videos, interviews, essays, and other new content. On Fridays, we will feature a new work by that artist for sale for a period of 48 hours. The artists are not suspending their creative impulses during this period, and they need to put their work in front of the public. The artists are excited by this vehicle, and if they are excited, the works are going to be terrific. Who’s to say?

We don’t know the extent of this tragic trajectory visited upon us, nor do I really think 2008–2009 is an apt comparison. That was a banking crisis, this is a human health crisis, first and foremost. The art market will undoubtedly come back—it may be in fits and starts, it may be in a series of loud bursts—but it will come back. In the meantime, we are happy to give our artists a platform to support themselves and their studios.

Aside from business, how have you been coping—emotionally, mentally—from day to day during this tumultuous time?

I went into self-quarantine on March 6 because a friend tested positive for COVID-19. I am safe, and my family is safe. I worry constantly, but I suppose that is one of the many reasons alcohol was invented. The support of my colleagues has been particularly helpful—awe-inspiring, in fact. We are all supporting each other during this perilous time. It bonds us in ways that when we come out the other side of this, will make us better art dealers and certainly better people.

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Subscribe to Fortune’s Outbreak newsletter for a daily roundup of stories on the coronavirus and its impact on global business.