As the water is being pumped out of galleries across a still power-less Chelsea (the majority of Lower Manhattan is still in a black-out, bracing for a few more days without electricity), the Chelsea art world is slowly coming to terms with the damage left in the wake of Sandy.
The Observer’s Gallerist reporters were some of the first on the scene, with live blog updates about the progress of the storm. Over the past day and a half, other writers have starting weighing in, giving a better glimpse at the scope of this disaster. If not with words, than with images that did more than enough talking – as in the case of collector Adam Lindemann’s blog.
This morning, the New York Times published a piece recounting some of the damage; both David Zwirner and Gagosian’s 19th Street locations were hard-hit. “We were expecting a foot of water, and we got four,” Zwirner is quoted as saying.
Art in America’s report came armed with some pretty gripping photos of Joa Baldinger’s paintings floating in water at Klemens Gasser Tanja Grunert, also on 19th Street.
Truly one of the more moving pieces, Artforum’s Linda Yablonsky just published a heart-breaking account of how the galleries – not the most obvious targets for sympathy, as she notes – are finding the strength to press on. We were relieved to hear that not only was everyone safe, but that all of Chelsea seemed to be lending a hand. We were particularly delighted to hear that one of the volunteers was artist Luc Tuymans, whose “Against the Day” exhibition traveled to Baibakov Art Projects in 2009 and whose show “The Summer is Over” – scheduled to open tonight at David Zwirner’s 19th street location – has been postponed until further notice.
But with all the shows of support, there is still much to be done in Chelsea. Some galleries are anticipating having to close until January at least, in order to prepare structural damage. Printed Matter took to Facebook, begging for volunteers to help sort through their waterlogged stock. (With internet down, and telephones spotty, cell phone use of social networks has been a critical means for getting information – be it who’s driving upstate for generators or where to go for a hot shower and a cell phone charger.)
As Linda points out, this disaster could be a time for restructuring: “The havoc wreaked by the storm will no doubt result in big changes to the city’s nineteenth-century infrastructure. Storms, after all, are only growing more intense. So when next week comes and electricity returns, the landscape of Chelsea—particularly the psychological turf—may start to look different.”
Just how different, no one knows, but we will continue to follow Chelsea’s recovery efforts. And while it may be easy to dismiss the Chelsea art world – which had been on a path to massive expansion recently, with many galleries taking on bigger and better locations – when comparing photos of the devastation around the Jersey Store and Long Island (as Yablonsky mentions), the reality is the art world is an ecosystem, and within that ecosystem, the role of galleries cannot be underestimated. For every mega-gallery like Gagosian or Pace, there are countless others like Casey Kaplan or Andrew Kreps, dealers who have poured their lives into supporting artists whose work may not always conform to commercial ideals. Our heart continues to go out to them, and to all those affected by this storm.