Marketing Mondays: Hell and High Water

Special Sunday edition
Monday Update: Report from James Kalm

Ocean surface winds for Hurricane Sandy at midnight on October 29. Colors indicate wind speed, and arrows the direction
Image: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech 

“This is gonna hurt like hell. Everybody will be impacted, whether or not we took on water.”
—Dealer Pavel Zoubok, reflecting on the economic impact
 of a devastated gallery district in the wake of Sandy

"The [Gowanus] Canal at the height of the storm overflowed its banks and was a thousand feet wide, covering bridges and inundating every-thing from Bond Street to Third Avenue." 
—Artist Loren Munk, writing as James Kalm,
on what he learned on Tuesday
 (Scroll down for Kalm's report in the dark red type)

While we saw plenty of helicopter shots of a washed-out Jersey Shore and the sensationalist pictures of dangling cranes, blown-away building façades, and explosions at a midtown power plant that left much of lower Manhattan in the dark—all dreadful scenarios, to be sure—there was much less in the national or local news coverage, or on the major news websites about how Hurricane Sandy, technically a post-tropical cyclone, affected the art community.
Let me rehrase that: There was no coverage.  There was nothing of the flood damage to the art galleries in Chelsea or to the artists’ studios through the city, especially in Brooklyn's DUMBO, Greenpoint and Red Hook. Storm surges rushed in with up to 10 feet of water in those waterfront areas, leaving artists with washed out or gunk-washed-in, or completely washed-away studios. In Chelsea the surge washed over the West Side Highway filling gallery basements and street-level spaces as it rushed in rivers along the cross streets of the low 20s toward 10th Avenue.  
Fortunately some of the publications that serve the art community, mostly online, have done good reporting. Equally important, Tweets and Facebook posts took us in almost real time into the belly of the beast. Hyperallergic, the blogazine edited by Hrag Vartanian, did an outstanding job in this regard. Kudos as well to Art Fag City for its aggregation and reportage. In this post I have aggregated the best of what I have read, adding some reporting of my own. None of these images is my own. I have credited the photographers and sources and provided links to those sources.

This week's New York Magazine cover, photographed by Iwan Baan; artist Richard Allen's rendering, with his new name for the lights-out zone
I wrote this on November 2, a few hours before power began to come on in Lower Manhattan, though some areas remained dark through Sunday, and a few geographic outliers are still without power. I was loath to interrupt any artist or dealer’s clean-up effort with phone calls or questions, but I did reach Brooklyn-based artist Loren Munk and Chelsea dealer Pavel Zoubok who each offered reports and persepective. Munk, aka James Kalm, reports that while he and his wife fared well—“Kate and I dodged the bullet, no flooding and we never lost electrical power”—others in the area were not as lucky. Munk has been posting pictures, links and information on his Facebook page, including a November 1 missive from Phong Bui, artist and publisher of The Brooklyn Rail, which said in part: “[We are] all upstairs in the office, working to  put the November issue to bed by tonight.” Meanwhile, all around them cleaning has been going on.
DUMBO the morning after the storm. Photo courtesy of DUMBO NYC via Art Fag City

Monday update:  A Brief Report from the Red Hook/Gowanus District of Brooklyn

by James Kalm

 Red pigment stains the pier at the end of Van Brunt Street
All photos with red captions: James Kalm, aka Loren Munk

Thursday evening I received an invitation from Joanne to contribute a brief report of how Sandy affected this neighborhood, so here goes.

Saturday, October 27
Sandy was huge, and slow.  We'd been hearing weather reports for days about this "super storm", but after all the hubbub last year in the lead up to Hurricane Irene, most folks made the mistake of not taking Sandy seriously. Saturday the 27th, I pop up to the roof and made note of the bizarre cloud formations.  The next afternoon, Sunday the 28th, Mayor Bloomberg announced a mandatory evacuation of Zone A areas (a half block away from us), and I scramble to move the car to higher ground.  (During Irene, I parked five blocks away in Cobble Hill, not realizing the danger from falling trees.)  

That night I pedaled into Manhattan, then Williamsburg, Bushwick and back along the waterfront into the Hook.  Things look a bit tense, some sandbags and taped windows, but nothing extreme.  I thought I'd pick up a rotisserie chicken at Fairway, which is located at the bottom end of Van Brunt Street.  By the time I arrived, they're already evacuated and were closed up tight. 

Bottom of Van Brunt Street flooded

Monday morning, Oct. 29
As I scan the usual news sites and blogs I stumbled on a photo of Van Brunt, exactly where I'd been the night before.  It showed a couple of feet of water in the street from the initial tidal surge.  Monday afternoon, Kate and I, curious cats that we are, make a walking tour of Red Hook.  There's a strange, almost celebratory mood.  Despite whipping winds and a heavy spritz we see groups of hipsters clicking their cell phone cameras and couples out on the streets looking for adventure.  We check Dustin Yellin's studio compound and things look battened down. The Bait and Tackle Bar's front door is open and people are partying.  Walking to the end of Greg O'Connell's pier, things are damp but the water level has gone down.  Gusty winds blowing tree branches are more treacherous than the rain. Saying things don't look too bad I heard,  "Just wait till tonight, about 8:00 pm, that's when we'll see the real shit ".

Bait and Tackle Bar in Red Hook

Monday evening, Oct. 29
That night, as the eye of Sandy comes ashore in central New Jersey, I'm tempted to grab my camera and run down to the Hook, but howling winds and hunks of plywood and tree branches barreling down the street deter me.  We hunker down for a nervous night. Liberal shots of tequila help. 

Tuesday morning, Oct. 30
Miraculously, Tuesday morning our power is still on (despite losing the internet for the day) and our street is dry.  Returning to Red Hook, I see the tide has receded, things are drying out.  It seems every other house  has a gas powered pump draining the basements.  Sidewalks are piled high with mounds of black trash bags, soggy beds, carpets, and old furniture.  The streets are filled with pickups, local restaurants are hosing off tables and sanitizing walls and floors.  On my bike I pass sightseeing kids on skinny tired fixies, they're sliding all over the coblestones and falling down due to a layer of slippery slime covering the streets.  Heading east I pass the new Ikea store.  Elevated over a massive parking garage on the first floor, it looks to have avoided any major damage, and a sign on the front door says they'll be open by Friday. 

I turn north to follow the Gowanus Canal. Despite a toxic history, with its cheap rents and large industrial spaces this neighborhood has become a magnet for bohemians.  A call from a cousin tells me that the Canal at the height of the storm overflowed its banks and was a thousand feet wide, covering bridges and inundating everything from Bond Street to Third Avenue. 

I cruise by Ron Gorchov's studio at the south end of Smith Street where the confluence of the bay and the funnel of the Gowanus must have added to the tidal flow, but everything was still locked up.  From the high-water line, and debris in the street,  I could tell this building was flooded to the eight-foot level.  (I was later informed that Ron was in Paris for an opening, so missed the storm.) Passing Ray Smith's building, a large door is open to the street, and I ask a worker cleaning out the sculpture shop, how high the water got there.  He holds a hand to his shoulder and shouts "pretty high".

Sorting through a water-soaked portfolio in Red Hook

Since Wednesday
We've hosted a friend from Chelsea who'd lost power (they finally restored the juice late Friday) and invited a group of Kate's coworkers without electricity to come by and charge their phones, computers and use the facilities.  Back in the Hook Thursday, Florence Neal's Kentler International Drawing Space was the location for a FEMA informational meeting. 

FEMA meeting at Kentler International Drawing Space in Red Hook

Saturday night, November 3
I just returned from another bike ride to the Hook. Occasional islands of street are Illuminated by the harsh glare of police light towers. There's a strange surreal effect, not unlike walking onto a movie set.  Power is coming back block by block, supplemented with portable generators. There's the noticeable reek of petroleum on several streets. The Red Hook Houses are still without power; they had several feet of tidal flood throughout most of the complex. Local organizers have set up  a volunteer center where people can sign up to work at Coffey and Van Brunt Street, and a distribution center receiving donations has been established in the Church of the Visitation off Coffey Park at 98 Richards Street. They're requesting canned food, cleaning supplies and blankets in preparation for chill of Thursday’s impending  Nor'easter.  The whine of pumps is constant, stacks of molding debris are everywhere, but there's hope.  Like the Christmas lights that stay on all year long at the Bait and Tackle bar, the people of Red Hook will endure, a bit tattered and chipped, but still colorfully brilliant.          

Ed. Note: In an email to me on Sunday, in which he sent a correction, Munk added this: “I just went through Chelsea and saw the mess, really heartbreaking.”

Links to Brooklyn reports:
. Sarah Schmerler on Brooklyn artists studios

. Sara Roffino's on the damage in Red Hook for
. Gallerist NY visits Dustin Yellin 

 Inside the 99 Commercial Street building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. where many artists have studios. This is sculptor Rachel Beach's studio. Photo: the artist from Sara Roffino's report for

Outside the same building, where damages materials and artwork are piled high. Photo: Sara Roffino for her article

And one more from artist Christopher Saunders, below, via Faceboook

In hard-hit Chelsea, Pavel Zoubok, whose 23rd Street gallery bears his name, reported on Facebook that the gallery sustained less than a foot of water. He credits his assistant, Trey, with “pre-storm efforts that saved the gallery.”  Stranded at his home in Pennsylvania, but in touch with his staffers by phone, Zoubok was able to offer background and insight to some of my musings. (Disclaimer: I am writing this from Massachusetts. I drove here before the storm to secure my studio and the building it's in, and will remain here until I fly to Miami next month. Neither here not the space I rent in Chelsea, farther away from the river, sustained any physical damage.).

A longer list of Chelsea links appears farther down this post. There’s more coverage, primarily because galleries get business attention. Art is, after all, big business in New York City, one that affects every one of us in some way. But at the heart of it, and as these pictures show, artists and dealers are suffering. 

Scope of the Physical Damage
Many galleries in West Chelsea—an area from 12th Avenue to the border of 9th Avenue, from roughly 19th to 28th Streets, have sustained severe water damage. Last Monday night, as the facade blew off a building two crosstown blocks over on Eighth Avenue, numerous Facebook posts described West 23rd Street as “a river.”  Basement spaces were flooded nearly to the ceiling, and the ground-floor spaces, normally so desirable for their visibility, were inundated—from a few inches, as in Zoubok’s case, to over four feet at David Zwirner on 19th. Anecdotally, Zwirner's gallery represented the high-water mark for the area. 

Of course, with flooding comes water damage to artwork (as well as mold, another issue we can recall from the aftermath of Katrina). No word yet on the mold; hopefully crews have come in quickly enough to pump out the water and remove water-damaged drywall.

In the Vulture pages of the current issue of New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz offers an emotional account of his tour of the area which opens this way: "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 sank." Read more
. .
Margaret Thatcher, whose gallery is shown in in the picture below, reportedly lost 40 drawings by the same artist for an upcoming show.

  Above: Knee-deep water outside Margaret Thatcher Projects on 23rd Street. Photo from  Hyperallergic's aggregated reportage

Below, from Bloomberg News: After the waters have receded, Thatcher stands with gallery neighbor Leo Koenig  Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg
 At Klemens Gasser Tanja Grunert, a basement gallery space on 19th Street, with paintings by Joa Baldinger floating. Photo from Art in America online report by Brian Boucher

Getting in, Cleaning Out
Without electricity, some dealers were unable to raise the heavy metal grates that cover their windows and entrance. Those who gained access initially used generators to pump water out of their inundated spaces. (Even on the Lower East Side, where the galleries to the east of Bowery were not affected by the high water, lack of electricity prevented many artists and dealers from entering their spaces immediately after the storm.)
While virtually all the galleries above street level are dry, access to the spaces may be limited because of lobby flooding or because water and electricity, and thus elevator access and heat, are not available in the building. Elevator wells may also be flooded. This is true for the artists studios as well as the mini storage facilities where many artists and dealers keep work. Here’s Denise Bibro, whose eponymous gallery is on 20th Street, in a gallery email dated November 1:Chelsea remains without power and we have no access to our gallery at this time.”

Tom Chen reporting in a short video for Art Info offers a peek at the cleanup on Chelsea

 Above and below: These two images from The New York Times show workers cleaning up at CRG Gallery on 22nd Street. Both photos: Robert Caplin for the New York Times

Assessing the Economic Impact
The full impact of the flooding to artists may never be known, as information tends to be anecdotal and it’s not likely that federal funds will be available to them. I will try to update this information in a few months when a fuller picture emerges.

As for the galleries, there’s the economic impact to the physical space and, separately, to the art. Here it’s clearer to see the impact to artists. .
“Anything physical in a space can be fixed. What’s a gallery but drywall and lighting?” says Zoubok. Insurance does cover repair or replacement. If computer information is backed up on line, the records are secure, he notes. “And the IRS and banks are pretty accommodating. I know that from 9/11.”
But the issue of the art itself—“the inventory,” dealers call it –may not be as easily resolved. It will not be immediately apparent what’s missing until inventory is taken, if inventory records have not been lost. (If you are an artist with work at one of these galleries, presenting an inventory list of your work will be helpful, but wait until the dealer is ready for that information.)

. First, will the damage be covered?
“Most of us have fine art policies, but most of us don’t have flood insurance. That’s a separate purchase,” says Zoubok  Where does that leave the dealers with a flooded basement full of art?  Or even
floor-level racks in which the water has risen one or two feet? That depends on their coverage.

And even in those instances, it’s not clear, as Brian Boucher, reporting for Art in America, online makes clear. He quotes quotes Derek Eller, whose eponymous gallery is in the block between 11th and 12th Street and whose basement, full of stored art, took on water: "'Who knows what will happen,' Eller mused, 'with works that were paid for but not picked up. They're not covered by our insurance any more. I don't know if they'll be covered by the buyers' insurance.'"
(Side note: While some insurance carriers insist on a high deductible for "hurricane damage"--i.e. $10,000 or more--Sandy was downgraded to a "post-tropical cyclone" just before landfall so those deductions should not apply. Read more.)
Still, there are likely to be unreimbursed losses. Artists who have no coverage of their own who have work in a gallery with no flood insurance could see a total loss. Can the galleries reimburse an artist (at least in part)? Can work be repaired or conserved?  These are questions that remain to be answered.
Here’s an artist, who asked to remain anonymous for the sake of his gallery, in a terse email to me: “Two feet of water in the gallery. Most of the paintings got wet. Mine did. I am hoping for the best, as I can restretch if there is no mildew and if they dry evenly, but paintings on panel are goners.”
. Second, what's the larger picture?
In Chelsea, galleries that sustained little damage, or which have multiple locations, or backers with deep pockets, should rebound quickly. But the double whammy of having to repair a space and resolve issues of damaged work may overwhelm a gallery that normally runs on a shoestring, notes Zoubok. “There are concerns that smaller galleries which have sustained physical damage may not be able to go two months with no sales.” ..
Putting a finer  point on it, dealer Asya Geisberg, talking to Roberta Smith in Smith's article in the Saturday York Times said, “I worry about the longevity of Chelsea for smaller galleries. We don’t have the staff or resources to deal with this.”  Geisberg is optimistic for her own gallery, though. She posted this on Facebook on Sunday: "Still a long way to go, but we fared better than many. AGG is resilient and will be back on its feet very soon. I hope everyone in Chelsea and elsewhere affected by this disaster can recuperate and rebuild as soon as possible." 

.I didn't dare call Margaret Thatcher, whose flooded gallery you saw earlier in the post; I knew she would be involved in a heavy-duty cleanup. So I was heartened to read her Facebook post: "Margaret Thatcher Projects was heavily impacted by the hurricane, beyond anything that could be imagined or prepared for.  . . For all of us impacted, I know it will take some time to recover. We are committed to repairing the gallery and reopening. It seemed the only response possible."
I wonder about the dealers who have been at it for decades. Having moved, perhaps multiple times, around SoHo, Tribeca or the East Village before finally settling in Chelsea, are they up for a major reno or move? I suspect the duration of their leases will factor into their decisions, as well as how quickly and how well their landlords respond to the devastation. But after the aggregate trauma of a decade of disaster--9/11, the economic downturn in 2008 and a lingering slow economy, and now this--one has to ask how much more the long-time dealers will take. And what happens to the artists if these galleries close?
While the damage is greatest here, the effects of the storm mean that galleries—and thus business—in a far greater area are affected. “I have lost a number of large painting and framed prints due to the flooding and am still without power on day 4," reports  Matt Garson, owner of M% Garson Fine Art in Cleveland.

I asked Zoubok if he thought the flood-damaged galleries would continue with their plans to show in Miami. That’s a case-by-case, depending on the extent of the damage, but he noted, “The fairs may be the only way for a dealer to recoup the storm’s devastating losses."

What This Means for You
Even if you don't live or work in New York City or its outlying areas, you are affected. Some venues will remain closed for repairs for a while. "Indefinitely," was one time frame. "Until further notice," was another.

More to the point of your own ambitions, the gallery you’ve had your eye on may have closed its doors, or may be quietly struggling and it would not be in your best interest to become involved. Time will out here.

Closed galleries mean fewer opportunities for all the artists looking for representation. Visit the galleries when they’re up and running, Follow them on line when you can’t get to the exhibitions there. Go to the openings. Be supportive, but hold back on your self promotion for a while. Never that thrilled about receiving unsolicited packages, galleries will surely not be in the mood for these packages at a time when they may be involved with insurance paperwork and emergency federal loans. That’s true for email, too. And promotional postcards. 

Says Zoubok, “It’s too soon.”
If you are a collector, buying art is a great way to support the galleries that struggle to open their doors—and the artists whose works are on the wall. But please don’t ask for a “courtesy” discount this time. That extra 10 percent may mean the difference between a dealer meeting a rent payment or an artist buying food.

Last Words
From Loren Munk via Facebook message: "I think it's important to get the word out that artists are resilient and despite the tragedy we'll struggle through this . . . we Brooklyn artists are tough."

From Ayn S. Choi via Facebook: “Ran into a gallery owner this morning who said his gallery got 4 feet of water… much damage,  but will have his opening next Friday as planned. Chelsea will survive! "
. . . . . . . . . .
Articles About Artists and Galleries Impacted by the Storm

Where to go for Help
Fema on Facebook

Conservation of Artwork
Hyperallergic has an entire post on the topic. I've pulled a few links from it
. Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF):, 802-229-2306
. New York Foundation for the Arts:
. NCPTT, Wet Recovery resources:
. Connecting 2 Collections forum on disaster recovery:     

AFC offers Tips from AXA Art

If you have more leads for information or help, please post them in the Comments section below.


Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Sometimes in a disaster, special disaster unempolyment will cover self-employed people including artists. Artists can check with local unemplyment to see if they might be eligible for loss of income.

Scarlett D. said...

Joanne, what an important post to artists in all areas! I truly believe that artists are good people and I'm sure I'm not the only one whose first thought, upon reading your wonderful article, was "What can I do to help?" I donate art to worthy causes and while (like many/most artists) I am not high in $$$ I would definitely donate art. Please post if there are art auctions/fundraisers. I look at my own art and home studio and I feel a pang of panic at the thought of losing the art OR the space to create it. East Coast artists/gallerists, we will help!

Finally, while this is not a political post, for those few of you on the fence, please, please, please realize that a Republican President will NOT come to the Art Community's assistance! Be sure to VOTE DEMOCRATIC on Tuesday!

Ruth Andre said...

Your whole post was about not being seen or heard and now you are telling me to vote Democratic. Please!

Joanne Mattera said...

I appreciate your posting under your own name. It's something that disgruntled readers often don't do. So thank you for having the courage of your convictions.

That said, if you reread my post you'll see that it's one of the (rare) times my personal political leanings do not show. The "Vote Democratic" exhortation was in the comment above yours. I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with the writer's pooint of view.

I've said this before and will say it again. This is a blog where politics is often part of the menu. Art does not exist in a vacuum. Artists and artmaking don't exist in a vacuum. We have points of view. You are entitled to yours, of course. And you are always welcome to visit this blog. But it's always going to lean left.

Ruth Andre said...

Joanne, Your blog is fabulous and I have a link for it on my blog. I think you do an outstanding job getting information out with great copy and photos. I was actually replying to the post above mine. I do thank-you for your reply. Leaning left does not bother me in the least but telling me how I should vote does.


excellent post Joanne.
My heart goes out to all (truly).
Long live the New York art scene one of civilizations treasures.

Liz Davidson / Artist Notebook said...

A couple of hopefully useful pieces of information

From Tri State Weather

FEMA is also giving disaster unemployment benefits to residents that are now unemployed because of Sandy. This includes people not normally eligible such as self-employed individuals. Note that to receive help, you must be in a county in NY, NJ or CT that has been declared a federal disaster area. To register call 800-621-3362 or apply online at

The number one thing we learned from FEMA briefing is to keep receipts for everything you buy and if you throw anything away keep a portion of it(wet carpeting etc), and TAKE PICTURES before you do. The more documentation you have the faster you will get money. They are reimbursing people and giving advanced check and wire transfers within 48 hours of being approved. Millions of dollars have already been handed out.

and from MOMA

MoMA has posted emergency guidelines and resource information for handling and conserving flood-damaged artworks. It offers step by step measures that can be taken to conserve artworks in a variety of mediums that have been damaged by water, including library and archive collections.

Paul Behnke said...

Thanks for so much info on the neighborhoods and how they are coping. I'm stranded in Jersey so it's helpful to be kept up to date.

CERULEAN said...

There's a charity auction for hurricane sandy relief organized by Seth Apter. You'l find it here:

ted larsen said...

We are on the other end of the wetness spectrum: can't get a drop of rain! We're into our third year of drought including massive forest fires.

At any rate, excellent reporting on the terrible situation for the Sandy disaster survivors. My heart sank when I saw the first photos the day after the storm passed.

BTW, lean left! Is there any other way to lean? This is your blog and you can lean any ol' way you wish.

Kim Matthews said...

All that haunting red pigment came from Bosco Sodi's work. So sorry to all of you who have lost your studios, your homes, and your art.