In Post-Sandy Gowanus: One Gallery Devastated, But Most Survived Canal Overflow

When images of the Gowanus Canal overflowing into the surrounding Brooklyn neighborhood appeared during and after Sandy’s pounding of New York, it appeared that much of the area, which has become an emerging art scene in recent years, would suffer some intense damage. Unfortunately, while many organizations made it out unscathed, the Gowanus Ballroom art space on Ninth Street right next to the canal was one of these.

ARTINFO stopped by on the afternoon after the storm and while clean up was already underway, the effort to repair the massive former-steel mill will be extensive. Above, the pale brown line is where the five feet of water flowed into the building from the heavily polluted waterway. Josh Young of Serett Metal, who founded the space, and Kristin Kunc, a curator for the Gowanus Ballroom, spoke about the damage and their hopes to repair it.

“The thing was, that we had about five feet of water, but we had waves, and all at once we had a huge wave come through,” Young said. The ten-foot wave mixed with paint and the chemicals contained in the numerous metal and shop machines in the space (which also serves as a metal fabrication shop). “When the wave came in, within minutes the whole place and all of our machines were submerged,” Kunc said. The force of the wave was so strong that it pushed a dumpster through the roll-gate on the lower level of the two-story space.

“It’s just a huge financial hit,” Kunc said. “Serett Metal funds Gowanus Ballroom, and without it we can’t operate.” The art space had planned to open an exhibition in November leading to its 2013 season and had an upcoming film event. Now they hope to stage a fundraiser for the Gowanus Ballroom and surrounding impacted organizations so that any of this will be possible. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen now,” Kunc stated. “But we definitely want to do a Gowanus-wide benefit.”

Other art organizations, like Gowanus Studio Space and Proteus Gowanus, stated that they managed to escape the surge from the canal and did not experience similar destruction. “We spent a full day preparing for a worst case scenario of three feet of disgusting toxic Gowanus water on our stuff; wrapping things in plastic, moving things to higher ground,” Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy Library at Proteus Gowanus told ARTINFO. “Luckily, although the waters rose fairly high in the neighborhood, it filled the basement instead of flooding our spaces.” Six feet of water remains in the 12-foot tall basement, and Ebenstein expects that electricity will be out for at least two weeks, but she stated that “we all feel very lucky to have gotten off so easy.”

Below are more photos from the Gowanus Ballroom and the area around it.

Debris littered the front of the art space, which remained lit by a generator. The text above is from the recent “To the Stars on the Wings of an An Eel” exhibition, which included work by Kiki Smith, Swoon, Duke Riley, and Dustin Yellin.

Above is Duke Riley’s submarine, which was part of the exhibition and was tossed by the flood from one room to another.

A giant metal sculpture-in-progress was knocked from its supporting scaffolding and now leans precariously.

Throughout the gallery were piles of debris and sculptures that had been moved by the water (you have to climb over some wreckage to even enter the second room), which the Gowanus Ballroom crew was slowly, but surely, removing or putting back into place.

This is the Ninth Street bridge and the Gowanus Canal just outside the Gowanus Ballroom, which had receded from the flooding during the storm.

Up Ninth Street, water was pouring out of a pipe going into an adjacent building which houses the New York Art Foundry, FIND Home Furnishings, and Build it Green NYC.

Allison Meier