Harrowing accounts of Sandy’s devastation to Chelsea Art District

The lights on the Brooklyn Bridge stand in contrast to the lower Manhattan skyline which has lost its electrical supply, early on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, after megastorm Sandy swept through New York. A record storm surge that was higher than predicted along with high winds damaged the electrical system and plunged millions of people into darkness. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

 By Jerry Saltz

I live downtown, in the part of Manhattan without power. Like many, my nights 
have been long, dark, cold, and unnervingly quiet. With no Internet access, cell 
phone, or news I was antsy, and felt the urge to wander. On day two, wondering 
how the galleries in Chelsea had weathered the storm, I seized the opportunity 
to leave my apartment and head west. And when I got there, my art-heart sunk.

Widespread devastation was in painful evidence in scores and scores of ground 
floor galleries between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Almost every ground floor 
gallery had been inundated with four or more feet of water. All of the many 
basement storage facilities were flooded. Computers and desk equipment were 
wiped out. Reams and reams of irretrievable historical material stored in 
notebooks and gallery files were washed away, destroyed. Sculptures, crates, 
furniture, and paintings floated inside water-filled galleries, ramming walls 
and other works of art. Whole shows were destroyed. Desks floated free. Glass 
doors had shattered from the pressure of the water inside the galleries. Walls 
already reeked of mildew or had rotted through.

 Damage to art has been far-reaching. I had to turn away when I saw Belgium 
painter Luc Tuymans going into David Zwirner to inspect a waterlogged painting 
of his. I watched outside Printed Matter as box after box of their own printed 
editions and titles were brought up from the basement and thrown into dumpsters. 
All lost. Outside, on almost all sidewalks, there were massive piles of 
cardboard, plastic, and crates. Inside each of these containers had been 
artworks that had been soaked. I  saw stunned gallerists un-framing works on 
paper, setting them out to dry on any available surface. Other dealers in work 
boots pushed crates out of spaces, onto the sidewalks, straight into dumpsters. 
One woman drove in 50 five-gallon containers of gas from upstate to fill the 
many pumping generators. Volunteer restoration experts went from gallery to 
gallery to inspect works, separate the salvageable from the lost. It was an art 
MASH unit. I saw paintings being carried from Friedrich Petzel's flooded 22nd 
Street space to dry storage in his new space on 18th Street. From the outside it 
looked as though a bomb had gone off inside 303 Gallery. Ditto many other 
galleries. I saw torrents of water rushing out of Gagosian's cavernous 21st 
Street space. When I ducked under the door I saw a large lone Henry Moore 
sculpture standing in inches of water <http://tinyurl.com/bx3fuhy> . A 
sub-ground level space on West 19th Street, filled as if it were a swimming 
pool, had paintings floating in more than fifteen feet of water. 

 I asked dealers if they had insurance. Most have it for the work. Some have it 
for flood damage. Most don't have any insurance other than on the art. This 
could spell the end of many galleries small and large.

 Many ridicule Chelsea galleries as flesh-eating pariahs. I think they're part 
of our life blood, the collective organism that in many ways makes New York one 
of the most thriving centers for art on earth. These ridiculed and reviled 
galleries are places you can go for free, run by strange people with visions who 
want to help artists by showing and selling their work. It's become an 
international pastime to attack these galleries simply for being what they are: 
large and commercial. I love them. All. More than ever.

 Walk through Chelsea in the next couple of weeks as clean-up and repair 
continues. Notice that some spaces look so wrecked that it'll be extraordinarily 
hard for them to get back on their feet. Many galleries will somehow have to try 
and rebuild while getting through the next couple of months of not being open or 
being able to show or sell art, all while still paying rent and bills. Even the 
most cold-hearted gallery bashers should wish the best for all these galleries. 
Every one. Palaces of art and mom-and-pop shows. Right now, along with much of 
our beautiful city, Chelsea galleries are going through hell. A huge part of the 
New York art world has suffered a colossal blow. Thinking about New York without 
its density of galleries is like not being able to think about New York at all. 

Copyright © 2010 - 2012, New York Media 

Street-level spaces are prime real estate here, but rising water flooded many 
sites, setting off a scramble to conserve art and clean property.

 By Meredith Blake and Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times
 November 2, 2012 

 Thursday is the customary night for art openings in Chelsea, the Manhattan 
neighborhood that's home to the city's biggest concentration of galleries.

 But this Thursday, the black-clad scenesters were replaced by men in white 
hazmat suits and surgical masks, and the only buzz came from generators.

 Chelsea is one of the many neighborhoods ravaged by super storm Sandy when it 
made landfall Monday night. Although the human tragedy here pales next to the 
horrors in Staten Island, where at least 19 people have died, the storm 
delivered a serious blow to New York's contemporary art world, damaging dozens 
of gallery buildings and many artworks they were designed to protect.

 Two days after the floodwater from the Hudson River had receded, the usually 
chic neighborhood remained in disarray, with  drywall, plywood and wet sandbags 
piled up next to 6-inch deep puddles. As indicated by the flood lines evident on 
building exteriors, nearly every ground-floor gallery in the district suffered 
some damage.

 In the hierarchies of the Manhattan art world, having a ground-floor gallery 
south of 25th Street is considered a sign of success, prime real estate that 
serious collectors could enter en route to blue-chip spaces like Gagosian or 
Matthew Marks without taking a single stair or pushing an elevator button.

 Now the downside of the once-enviable ground-floor spaces in Chelsea has 
become clear, with galleries farther south and west generally hit the hardest. 
303 Gallery on West 21st Street and 11th Avenue looked like a war zone. On 19th 
Street, employees bundled against the cold and clutching cups of coffee were 
frantically at work outside the space owned by dealer David Zwirner, which was 
flooded by 4 feet of water. One woman, perhaps out of frustration, smashed a 
ruined telephone with a hammer.

On Thursday afternoon Leo Koenig was removing soaked drywall from his two 
galleries on West 23rd Street. Because he and his staff had prepared diligently 
by moving artwork off the ground, the damage he sustained was mostly to his 
gallery. He said he lost only a few pieces of "sentimental value" and is now "in 
a race against the clock" to eradicate mold and mildew.

Speaking of the damage to neighbors, he added, "I knew it was going to be 
severe, but this is a catastrophe."

Just a block south, on West 22nd Street, Zach Feuer was hit much harder. His 
gallery played host to the first solo show by artist Kate Levant on Oct. 19, 
featuring several works on paper. Many dealers are not openly discussing their 
losses pending talks with restorers, insurance agents and lawyers, not to 
mention artists. But Feuer estimates that 20 of Levant's pieces — representing 
at least a year of work — were destroyed when 5 feet of water from the Hudson 
flooded his space.

Because the gallery, now littered with ruined hard drives and covered in a 
layer of gray soot, sloped slightly downhill, Feuer's archives in the back of 
the space were badly damaged. Upstairs, in an empty gallery lent to him by 
neighbors, several hundred pieces of artwork were laid out on the floor to dry 
before Feuer ships them to a conservator in Long Island.

Although he estimated that "nearly all" of his inventory was damaged in the 
storm, Feuer remained stoic. Asked how he plans to rebuild, he replies with a 
shrug: "I'll just keep working."

Another gallery in the path of the floodwaters was Sikkema Jenkins at 530 W. 
22nd St., which opened a major show of Mark Bradford paintings on Oct. 27, the 
Saturday before Sandy hit. But the gallery and artwork held up better than most.

Based in Los Angeles and home now ("I think I got the last flight out"), 
Bradford reports that his gallery left his paintings — which run as large as 10 
by 16 feet — hanging on the wall but swaddled them in industrial-strength 
plastic wrap. He also tends to hang his work high. He thinks both factors may 
have helped.

"I fully expected there to be some damage, but the works were fine," Bradford 
said. "It was amazing. After a hurricane sometimes you'll see a whole street 
taken out and just one house standing — it feels a little like that."

Blake reported from New York and Finkel from Los Angeles.
 Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times


 By Roberta Smith

 Published: November 2, 2012

There are many pleasures to being an art critic in New York. One, in my view, 
is definitely the late Saturday afternoon crunch in Chelsea, that day’s-end rush 
through a last few galleries, seeing shows and squirreling away experiences and 
ideas just before they all close for the weekend.

Drywall pulled from flooded galleries filling trash bins in Chelsea. The 
neighborhood’s art dealers, some in tears, are salvaging what they can in the 
aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

I had a great final 60 minutes in Chelsea last Saturday and, consequently, one 
of the last looks at what would suddenly become, on Tuesday, the old, pre-Sandy 
Chelsea gallery scene. That day, as I started hearing reports of flooding in the 
neighborhood, some of the art I had seen on Saturday became increasingly vivid 
in my mind, as did the weird thought that I might be one of the last people who 
would ever see it.

I had enjoyed Eberhard Havekost’s show at Anton Kern on West 20th Street, a 
don’t-pin-me-down stylistic array that gave this German painter a sharper, slyer 
edge than he had ever had for me. There were hard-edge abstractions, diaphanous 
images of sunsets and one quirky, crusty Expressionist exercise that seemed 
laden with enough paint to make the rest of the show.

On West 21st Street, a small new gallery named Guided by Invoices (talk about 
sly) had been showing small abstractions on Masonite, enlivened by spurts of 
spray paint and rugged lines that appeared to be more sawed than incised. They 
were by a virtual unknown: Rafael Vega, a 2012 graduate of the School of the Art 
Institute of Chicago, making his New York debut.

Farther down the block, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery had been offering an unusually 
gimmick-free show by Olafur Eliasson, with photographs of Iceland’s hot springs 
and volcanoes and a wall-to-wall floor piece made of large chunks of dark 
obsidian, or volcanic glass. It was a welcome alternative to the immersive, 
perception-distorting environments that have become an Eliasson specialty. 

One of the most beautiful and surprising shows had been next door at Casey 
Kaplan: a four-decade survey of the paintings of Giorgio Griffa, a little-known 
Italian artist born in 1936 who had not shown in New York since the early 1970s. 
His sparse, plain-spoken works constitute a kind of visual counting: simple 
brush marks, lines or bands of radiant color applied one after another to 
expanses of raw, unstretched canvas. They expanded history on several fronts for 
me, adding to my understanding of European abstraction of the late 1960s, 
speaking to the efforts of American painters as disparate as Alan Shields and 
Agnes Martin, and presaging the low-tech painting of younger artists like Sergej 

I had left Chelsea, as I often do, feeling a little high at the sight of 
different kinds of art made at different points in artists’ lives: starting out, 
continuing, approaching the end. Whatever you think of the actual art on any 
given day in Chelsea, regulars to the neighborhood are privy to a lot of human 
endeavor on the part of artists and art dealers. It is a gift.

That point was brought home with special intensity when I returned on 
Wednesday and then again on Thursday, witnessing devastation everywhere, and 
also the purposeful reaction to it. On Wednesday, to the thunderous clatter of 
water pumps and generators, ashen-faced, sometimes teary-eyed art dealers, along 
with their staff members and often their artists, were pulling sodden furniture, 
computers and irreplaceable archival documentation and artworks from their dark, 
water-blasted galleries.

There were huge piles of wet, crumpled cardboard on the street. “You know, 
most people look at this and think it’s just cardboard,” said Michael Jenkins, a 
partner in Sikkema Jenkins & Company, on West 22nd Street. “They don’t realize 
that all of it was wrapped around works of art.”

At Bonakdar, there was no sign of the Eliasson photographs, just the long, 
Donald-Judd-style wooden table and bench that have become friendly landmarks on 
the ground floor, severely warped by water. At Kaplan, the front desk had 
already been removed, and the Griffa paintings were, I was told, at the 

Everywhere there were signs of water’s relentlessness, but also odd 
exceptions. At Guided by Invoices, which sits as far west as you can go on 21st 
Street, on the corner of the West Side Highway, the Vega show was still hanging, 
and the gallery was almost completely dry. Something — perhaps unusually 
watertight gates — had saved it.

Anton Kern was locked when I went by, but through the window there were no 
Havekost paintings to be seen, only what would become the increasingly familiar 
sight of works on paper spread out on tables and the floor for drying.

I ventured north to find that the floods had not touched the galleries on West 
29th Street, and then back down to 27th Street, between 11th Avenue and the West 
Side Highway, where the string of small galleries nestled in the south side of 
the old Terminal Warehouse building — Derek Eller, Wallspace, Winkleman, Foxy 
Production and Jeff Bailey — had lost huge amounts of art when the building’s 
common basement flooded.

At every turn there was evidence of salvage and conservation, as well as 
rebuilding. Even on Wednesday workers were cutting away ruined drywall in 
galleries so it could be replaced; on Thursday trucks from lumber yards were 
delivering drywall and plywood. At CRG at 548 West 22nd Street, a floor that had 
been slick with water on Wednesday was a day later arrayed with tables for 
drying works on paper. Upstairs, where the Artist’s Book Fair was to have been 
held this weekend but had been canceled, the space had been converted into a 
kind of art hospital for drying out.

For all these efforts, it was easy to wonder, on first encounter, if Chelsea 
would ever come back as an art district. And when I talked to dealers about what 
they thought, reactions were mixed. Asya Geisberg, whose 23rd Street gallery was 
flooded, said: “I worry about the longevity of Chelsea for smaller galleries. We 
don’t have the staff or resources to deal with this.”

“My artists are helping me out,” she added. “Other people are helping me out, 
but it’s not enough.”

On 22nd Street Andrew Kreps confirmed that he had lost most of his inventory 
in his flooded basement, and my next, perhaps undiplomatic, question to him was 
“Will you close?”

But his immediate reaction was “No.” James Yohe, another 22nd Street 
gallerist, put it more romantically, “We’re here because we’re true believers.”

Mr. Kaplan said he was determined to reopen and to continue his Griffa show 
when he did. “I have to do this for him,” he said, referring to Mr. Griffa. 
“He’s been kind of written out of art history.”

“We won’t come back in the same way — we might be on one leg financially,” he 
added. “But we will.”

His commitment was echoed on 19th Street, where David Zwirner was overseeing 
an immense conservation effort spread, in his case, through three large spaces. 
He said his faith in Chelsea was unshaken. Referring to both the density of 
Chelsea’s galleries and their lack of entrance fees, he said, “It’s the craziest 
freebie in the world.” He sounded as if he didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
 © 2012 The New York Times Company

> MoMA PS1′s director, Klaus Biesenbach, just tweeted the museum’s “emergency 
guildelines for art disasters” for artists and dealers in need. 
<http://tinyurl.com/b4c6bq7> _GalleristNY


Thanks to Candice Pulliam, Locate Fine Art,www.locatefineart.com for sending this to DAM.
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