It’s been a month-and-a-half since Sandy struck New York City and its art community particularly hard. And still, galleries are struggling to recover from the hurricane. There have been countless volunteers and helpful neighbors to help them along the way, something that’s particularly heartening among so much devastation.
Ground level or below ground storage areas were too often turned to sludge and muddy paper, but items on higher ground fared better. Printed Matter is a nonprofit in Chelsea that specializes in artists’ books. While what was in the basement storage space can never be recovered, most of what was upstairs was
dried out and the bookstore reopened just five days following the hurricane.
But five days after the storm, others in Chelsea weren’t quite so lucky. Still sorting through debris, a myriad of volunteers flocked in to help. Dumpsters were stuffed full of cardboard and unsalvageable art. The David Zwirner gallery’s walls (made from drywall) were soaked and the gallery had to be completely gutted because of the water damage wrought by the hurricane.
Now, many of those same galleries are in Miami for the Art Basel show. “Before the hurricane we were only going to have a couple of representatives there, from the sales staff,” said Julia Joern of The David Zwirner gallery. “But, after the hurricane, everyone is going. We don’t really have a gallery where we can function so we have to go to the fair en masse.”
Other galleries in similar situations are hoping that sales from the fair will help them toward recovery. And some are in much more dire circumstances than Zwirner. Derek Eller stored much of his artwork in the basement. “It essentially looked like an Olympic-sized swimming pool,” he said. “We had about five feet of water in there. We had approximately 750 works of art that was submerged in water.”
Insurance claims are still being worked out for many hard-hit galleries. There is insecurity as to how much will be covered by insurance companies and how much will be written off as lost money. To fully realize this, specialists must appraise all damaged art to determine what can be saved and what can’t.
Luckily, there’s a sense of community developing between many galleries. The Art Dealers Association of America’s relief fund has seen donations from some galleries (like $50,000 from David Zwirner) and has gifted out money to those who need it most.