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Hurricane Sandy devastates Chelsea – center of the contemporary art world

November 3, 2012

Drywall pulled from flooded galleries filling trash bins in Chelsea. The neighborhood’s art dealers, some in tears, are salvaging what they can in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Marcus Yam for The New York Times.

The reports about the fate of New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the international home of the contemporary art world, started coming out shortly after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States earlier this week.  Flood levels of several feet in many of the street level and below street level galleries had destroyed untold numbers of works of art, eradicated archives and ruined gallery infrastructure.  Magda Sawon, co-owner of Postmasters Gallery tweeted on Friday Nov. 2 about one of the artists she represents: “Diana Cooper’s Canal st storage under 5 feet. Major works 1996-2007 from her MOCA Cleveland show GONE.” She followed up later that day with this: “There is a large feature on Diana Cooper’s work scheduled for December Artnews. Many of the works illustrating the article no longer exist.” This horrific news was repeated about many other artists and galleries.

Odds are, if a Chelsea gallery had basement storage, the basement was flooded and works were either destroyed or a rushed to a conservator.  The New York Times’ Roberta Smith penned a heartbreaking article about what has happened. One thing she doesn’t speculate about is the affect this will have on Art Basel Miami Beach, which is a month away.  How many Chelsea galleries currently scheduled to participate will be forced out because artwork has been destroyed and they face the financial strains of rebuilding (if they can afford to)?

Ms. Smith’s article begins with a reflection on the joys of gallery going in Chelsea and evolves into war reporting about a gruesome, lop-sidded defeat – nothing left but carnage, destruction and refugees:

There are many pleasures to being an art critic in New York. One, in my view, is definitely the late Saturday afternoon crunch in Chelsea, that day’s-end rush through a last few galleries, seeing shows and squirreling away experiences and ideas just before they all close for the weekend.

I had a great final 60 minutes in Chelsea last Saturday and, consequently, one of the last looks at what would suddenly become, on Tuesday, the old, pre-Sandy Chelsea gallery scene. That day, as I started hearing reports of flooding in the neighborhood, some of the art I had seen on Saturday became increasingly vivid in my mind, as did the weird thought that I might be one of the last people who would ever see it.

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