Right about now, Larry Gagosian, septuagenarian bad boy of the art world, should be surrounded by the rich and beautiful, doing rich and beautiful things.
Like procuring a Picasso for a hedge fund titan and outbidding rivals at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Or regaling billionaires and celebrities on the soft banquettes at his Kappo Masa restaurant, beneath his Madison Avenue gallery, where, in good times, a single roll of sushi might run $240.

But Gagosian isn’t doing any of that -- not during a pandemic. Like so many New Yorkers, he’s social distancing. Only in his case, he’s hunkered down in the Hamptons.

The term “social distancing” sounds out of place in the context of one of the most powerful and connected figures in the art scene’s social order. And yet here’s the picture he’s painting now: Alone on a cold beach, without a mask, dashing whenever he sees a passerby who might be shedding virus. His silver hair, normally an impeccably cropped helmet, hasn’t been cut. He slips back into his palatial house, a captive in Hamptons paradise.

It’s from this Charles Gwathmey-designed modernist fortress that Gagosian has been running his empire for the past two months while all 18 of his galleries, which dot the globe from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, remain closed. The man, who likes his art in the flesh and still uses a BlackBerry, is coming to grips with the market’s new reality: Most sales now happen electronically. Clients are distracted. Transaction volume has plunged.

“When things go down like this you say, ‘Jesus, Larry, do you really need all these galleries?”’ he said by phone from Amagansett.

‘Scrappy Businessman’
It’s a striking question coming from the man whose “mega gallery” business model has been at the forefront of the art market’s global expansion for the past two decades. The pandemic brought the $64 billion industry to its knees, with galleries and museums shuttered, auctions and art fairs postponed or canceled and countless exhibitions derailed. The jet-setting art world faces a reckoning: Who will survive, and what will the New Normal look like?

The stakes are especially high for Gagosian, who employs almost 300 full-time staffers and has more than 175,000 square feet of prime real estate.

There’s also fierce competition from rivals including David Zwirner, 55, whose early investment in online platforms is paying off during the lockdown, generating more than $10 million in sales. Pace gallery’s new eight-story emporium in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood dwarfs Gagosian’s flagship, once the largest space in the city’s art district.

In his telling, the dealer is wired for tough times. A grandson of Armenian immigrants, he rose from selling posters in a parking lot in Los Angeles in the 1970s to becoming one of the art world’s most powerful figures, with all the trappings of his clients: mansions, a private jet and an enviable personal art collection.

“My journey is different from some other major galleries because I started from scratch,” he said. “I didn’t have family in the business. I never worked for another gallery. I never worked for an auction house. So by nature, I’ve been a survivor and a scrappy businessman, which maybe in these times it suits me well.”

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