News

New York’s Art World Assessing Impact of Hurricane Sandy [UPDATE 5]

by Hrag Vartanian on October 30, 2012

An instagramer captures the knee-high flood waters in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood last night. (via Erin Lagasse)

Last night’s major storm, which is currently being called post-tropical cyclone Sandy, delivered a wallop to New York, flooding neighborhoods across the region and shutting off power to large swathes of the metro area, including most of lower Manhattan and huge sections of New Jersey. The storm has caused extensive tree damage to the Tri-state area but it’s worth noting that many art neighborhoods have also been impacted by flooding.

Yesterday, Madga Sawon, co-owner of Chelsea’s Postmasters gallery, tweeted about her ordeal last night as she witnessed the flood waters slowly approach her gallery at 459 West 19th Street, just east of Tenth Avenue.

By noon on Tuesday, a full 12 hours after the storm peaked in New York, Sawon was seeking temporary refuge at a friend’s home and she is counting her blessings.

“It was like being in a horror movie, you just watch and you have complete powerlessness,” Sawon said. “At 8pm, the water had already reached Tenth Avenue, where there is a bump. It stopped there for a while and then it went over and the it stopped five inches from my gate.”

She explains that the flood waters may have avoided damaging Postmasters’ main gallery space but their basement was flooded through the sewer system and it destroyed their hot water heater and other items.

“There is no damage related to the gallery art, art documentation or power tools, but it is a catastrophic event in that our operations will be impacted for at least a couple of weeks,” she says.

This morning, while touring her neighborhood and surveying the impact on neighboring galleries, Sawon said she saw that Tanja Grunert gallery, which also has a larger basement gallery space, was overwhelmed with water. She saw at least four feet of water at the Grunert space and the David Zwirner gallery, which are both on West 19th Street.

Our phone conversation with Sawon was disrupted today by the city’s cellular system which appears to be overwhelmed by storm-related calls, so we resorted to SMS to complete the interview. She explained what she saw on 19th Street:

“Ruined art on the walls i saw through the door to both. Also Bortolami. Zach Feuer. Many other ground floor spaces west of Tenth  Terrible. Frankly I feel like we dodged the bullet that would basically destroy us.

She also knows that a natural disaster like will impact many small galleries who would have trouble recovering from the damage. “My personal opinion is that this will hit smaller galleries much harder than the mega operations and will further contribute to polarizing the art scene,” she said via text.

We could not independently confirm the damage at David Zwirner and Tanja Grunert as the phone lines at Zwirner are busy and Grunert gallery’s phone line is not accepting messages.

The New York Observer‘s Gallerist art blog has been going door to door in Chelsea to find out how the flood is impacting each gallery. They reported at noon today that:

West 21st Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues is underwater right now, after being clear earlier in the day. Electricity remains out throughout the neighborhood. Firefighters are in front of Gagosian investigating a gas leak. Sediment residue on the gallery’s glass entrance shows that water had risen at least four feet. Inside there was debris and a partially installed Henry Moore exhibition.

The site also posted photos from the water damage at Zwirner, and it’s worth noting that the photos — mostly of office areas — don’t appear to have any art in site.

Today, in front of Smack Mellon in Dumbo. (photo courtesy Amy Shaw)

If the news from Chelsea sounds rather bleak, there is little news from the city’s other gallery districts. While most galleries in Brooklyn appear unscathed by the flooding, including Bushwick’s 56 Bogart Street gallery building, there were rumors that the Smack Mellon nonprofit and gallery in Dumbo may have experienced some flooding. A friend of Hyperallergic visited the site and saw a truck with a generator parked out front, but little sign of other damage from outside. We have not be able to contact Smack Mellon for comment.

There is no sign yet that the city’s museums had any real problems weathering the storm and many members of MoMA and MoMAPS1 staff received an email from the museum’s Director of Facilities and Safety Tunji Adeniji who explained, “MoMA, MoMA QNS and MoMA-PS1 fared well with no flooding or power outages.”

We tried reaching a number of other Manhattan museums but were not successful at getting through to most of them. Two institutions did return our request for comment with the following notes.

From the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA):

“I just checked with our IT person that monitors our security system and he said that all he knows right now is that our power and phones are out. We don’t know the state of the physical space.”

From porous-walled Storefront for Art and Architecture:

“Storefront offices and gallery space will be closed tomorrow for Sandy’s private tour of the exhibition ‘Past Futures.’”

A view of some of the flooding in Manhattan’s East Village (via @jesseandgreg)

The state of artist studios and loft buildings is going to be something of great concern in the coming days and weeks. Red Hook and Gowanus, where many artists live, experienced serious flooding throughout the night and one artist, Emily Berger, informed me via Facebook that she hasn’t set foot near her Gowanus studio yet. “Have not been down to Gowanus yet to check out the studio or other spots like Proteus Gowanus — waiting for the toxic waters to recede,” she said.

Creative Capital and other Facebook groups have been posting this information:

Artists affected by the storm: If your studio or gallery is flooded, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works is on call. Here’s a note from their web site: “For 24-hour assistance, call (202) 661 8068. AIC-CERT responds to the needs of cultural institutions during emergencies and disasters through coordinated efforts with first responders, states agencies, vendors and the public. Volunteers can provide advice and referrals by phone at the number above. Requests for onsite assistance will be forwarded by the volunteer to the AIC-CERT Coordinator and Project Director for response. Less urgent questions can also be answered by emailing info@conservation-us.org.”

But out attempts to reach the number have been unsuccessful and the machine does not indicate any association with AIC-CERT, though a message on the main phone line of AIC-CERT does reiterate the same phone number as their emergency response number. We have reached out to AIC-CERT for clarification.

We will keep you informed as more information is made available.

UPDATED: We received the following eyewitness report and photo from an individual who asked to remain anonymous because of work-related relationships. The individual wrote:

… I made my way over to Chelsea to see how the galleries were doing. I’d heard there was a lot of flooding via Twitter the night before, and sure enough, there had been about 5 feet of water on 22nd street, and maybe 3–4 ft on 24th. So, most of the galleries on those streets appeared flooded.

I’m not sure if they just didn’t take the Zone A evacuation seriously, or, felt they were somehow immune, but many looked like they hadn’t made any effort to protect themselves or the work inside. For example at Carolina Nitsch, Ai Wei Wei’s chairs were lying all over the floor.

Many of the galleries with painting and photography fared better as they were just above the flood line, but I think those with sculpture and installation weren’t in good shape. I’m not sure if the blue chips had done a better job, all their metal gates were pulled shut, so it was hard to tell.

As proof of the report, the individual sent this photo of overturned Ai Weiwei chairs in the Carolina Nitsch space:

And these other images from 22nd Street in Chelsea’s gallery district:

UPDATE 2: The New Museum, which is located on the Lower East Side, where there is a continuing blackout, provided us with the following statement:

The New Museum is downtown so currently within the grid without power. Our team is working full force as resources become available. We will not open tomorrow (Wed) or host the Costume Party event due to lack of power. Because of this, our email and phone server is currently inactive … There is no damage to the museum or any artworks. Please encourage folks to seek regular updates via our Facebook and Twitter

We also received the following email response from the Tanja Grunert gallery, which we reached out to confirm the impact of post-tropical cyclone Sandy:

No one available. The whole 19th Street between 1estside highway and 10th Avenue had been over five feet under water. We are still under shock. No assessment as of yet.

UPDATE 3: Eyebeam, which is located in Chelsea, released the following statement about the post-Sandy situation:

Eyebeam will be closed for the rest of the week due to damages sustained from Hurricane Sandy and the unprecedented water surge that resulted. Since this past Friday, Eyebeam staff members have taken every precaution possible to prepare for the storm, but Hurricane Sandy was beyond anyone’s expectations. We are working quickly to assess and rectify the damage, and hope to have the space fully operational as soon as possible.

All programs and events scheduled for the week of November 5 will be postponed, notably those that are part of F.A.T. GOLD: Five Years of Free Art & Technology, the exhibition and event series celebrating the work of the Free Art & Technology Lab. This program will be rescheduled for March 2013. We appreciate everyone’s support and patience during this time.

Curator Lindsay Howard also provided us with the following photos she shot on 21st Street in Chelsea this afternoon around 1pm EDT:

UPDATE 4: We’ve received the first report of an artist’s studio being devastated by Post-tropical Cyclone Sandy. Greenpoint-based sculptor Rachel Beach arrived today at her studio at the northern tip of Brooklyn to discover that her whole studio was flooded with water from the very toxic Newtown Creek. Her studio is part of the large 99 Commercial Street complex, which houses a number of artist studios, as well as, the offices of The Brooklyn Rail publication.

Photos of the devastation at Rachel Beach’s studio. (all images courtesy the artist’s Facebook page)

“I knew I was Zone A, and my studio has had flooding before, though only six inches. I prepared by getting everything up off the floor, and some things were secured as high as six feet, and it took me days to get it organized,” Beach told us via Skype. “The water came up so high that they lifted the tables. The water almost reached the ceiling, so when the water receded everything fell to the floor.”

“It smells toxic in there. It smells like chemicals, not even like mold,” she said, pointing out that Newtown Creek, which is adjacent to 99 Commercial Street, is a well-known toxic site.

“I have waves of heartbreak and devastation as I think about the work I’ve lost,” she said. “My equipment, all the motors blown, $40,000 in saws I’ve built up over the years … I feel like I’ve lost a lifetime of work. Stacks of drawings and sketchbooks from the past 15 years. I have stacks from undergrad and grad school, just my faves, were there. Everything I loved.”

UPDATE 5: Chelsea’s Zach Feuer gallery just posted the following status update on their Facebook page along with this image:

We had about 5 feet of water in the gallery. We haven’t been able to access the back room, office and storage yet to fully assess damage – but it looks like Kate Levant’s show will not be able to reopen. Our phones remain down, so if you need to reach us please email.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are continuing this liveblog of Sandy-related information at “Hurricane Sandy Report, Two Days After.”

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Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Wilson/27906982 Beth Wilson

    All of a sudden, a ground-floor space seems to have less cache.

  • MicahGanske

    I’m so sorry, Rachel! That is absolutely horrible!

  • http://www.heathermccaw.com/ Heather McCaw

    My heart goes out to everyone effected by the storm and especially to artists like Rachel. Terrible. My only thought is how catastrophic this could be given the sheer volume of uninsured work out there, both in galleries and in the hands of artists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/belhamg Chaibi Belhassen

    Oh god that’s horrible

  • Lauren was

    Smack Mellon sustained flooding of up to six feet in the basement where their artist studio program is. The flooding destroyed the media lab Woodshop and six artist studios. Please visit Smackmellon.org to find out about how to volunteer with cleanup or make a donation.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Thanks, Lauren.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.c.cox.9 Brandon Coley Cox

    That is terrible and my heart really goes out to everybody. Especially Rachel, I just couldn’t imagine. It’s gonna be ok girl, one day at a time.

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