Sandy’s Costly Damage To NYC’s Art World

Hurricane Sandy has inflicted costly damage to New York City’s art world.

Modern art collectors and dealers in NYC’s Chelsea district are returning to the city’s contemporary art hub to assess the damage inflicted by the storm. “This is a big cultural loss,” gallery owner Zach Feuer told CNN.

The total monetary damage to NYC’s modern art world has yet to be determined as artists and collectors slowly return to the city to find flood waters reached dangerous levels. While the structures and buildings of Chelsea still stand, it is the water damage that has them the most concerned.

Many of these facilities have basements or first-stories that were primarily used as storage. Despite efforts to lessen the damage with sandbags and sealant, when the Hudson River flooded, many galleries and studios were irreparably damaged.

Gallery owner Leo Koenig lamented, “I would not be surprised if, when it’s all said and done the damage that is done to our art world will be in the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in unrecoverable work.” Koenig attempted to use sealant to keep water out of his space. Unfortunately, when he returned, he found the sealant had actually trapped the water inside, and, when he opened his doors, it came pouring out onto the sidewalk.

Sandy Damages Chelsea Art World - Gallery owner Leo Koenig

Gallery owner Derek Eller tried to curb some of the damage by laying sandbags before he evacuated. When he returned to his building, he found the electric lift inoperable due to power failure. Looking in his windows, he was horrified to see boxes strewn about the first floor after water reached the ceiling in his 1,800 square foot basement. “It’s a disaster, pieces are lost forever … We have been saving works over the past three days.”

Sandy Damages Chelsea Art World - Owner Derek Eller

Some artists actually witnessed the destruction firsthand. Sculptor Silas Seandel recounted, “The surge came in and broke through the door and knocked me down, threw me and thousands of pounds of steel, and bronze, and sheets, all the way to the back door.” Seandel, who lives above his studio, was able to escape to higher ground to wait out the storm. His studio was not so lucky.

Sandy Damages Chelsea Art World - Silas Seandel, sculptor

Now members of this usually competitive community are banding together to try and salvage priceless works of art. Conservators and museums are offering their expertise to assist local gallery owners with their salvaging efforts.

A Collections Emergency Response Team from the American Institute for Conservation is giving owners official clean-up guidelines and has a 24-hour hotline to provide around-the-clock assistance.

The Museum of Modern Art will be holding a free public presentation on recovering water damaged works. MoMA has also provided a downloadable step-by-step guide to begin perseveration efforts that also directs owners to companies approved to clean-up extensive water damage.

Art director Emilio Steinberger of Haunch of Venison described a community picking up the pieces: “These are artists, these are dealers, people put their heart and soul into the art world and they’re moving to save it, and put things back together … This kind of event brings back the human factor to it.”