Why New York’s Art Scene Will Be Just Fine After Sandy. Here’s Help.

photo Tom Chen, Artinfo

As New York’s galleries begin the arduous – and sometimes heartbreaking — work of cleaning up after Superstorm Sandy, the bloggers huddle  at their desks typing their reports — each one, it seems, declaring the end of the art market as we know it, the end of galleries as we know them, the end of Chelsea as it’s been, the end of everything.

What rot.

Now, maybe it’s because I’m not there, myself  (though since the first rains fell, I’ve felt like I should be); and maybe it’s because of my incurable optimism, or my natural skepticism, or simple naiveté: but I’m just not buying it.   This is New York. This is the art world.  It doesn’t work that way.

Already, in fact, MoMA has issued a statement encouraging anyone who cares about art to step up and volunteer their services in the cleanup, in aiding restoration, in sending funds where needed.   In an e-mail to a large mailing list, the museum’s director, Glenn Lowry, announced an event scheduled today (Sunday) at noon:

Tomorrow, Sunday, November 4, at 12:00 p.m., The Museum of Modern Art’s conservation staff and speakers from the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT) will conduct a series of workshops to help the many artists and galleries whose works were affected by Hurricane Sandy. They will provide suggestions and answer questions on how to safely handle damaged paintings, drawings, books, sculptures, and other artistic and cultural materials. Visit MoMA.org for more information on this program. MoMA has also issued Immediate Response for Collections, a document offering step-by-step guidelines for dealing with artworks damaged by flooding, and we will continue to lend knowledge and support to those caring for collections affected by the storm.

In addition, the museum has placed a collection box in its lobby for those who wish to contribute funds that way – a nickel at a time. It all helps.

It’s worth remembering, too, that few communities anywhere in the world are as quick to rally for a cause as the New York art world has been for decades.  In 1987,  when AIDS was still a dirty word, artists came together and produced a benefit auction at Sotheby’s that raised over $1 million — not bad in those days!; the event launched a six-month long event hosted by dozens of New York galleries that the LA Times called “what is thought to be the largest private-sector fund-raising effort to date in the fight against AIDS.” And just over a year ago,  David Zwirner, who staged the “I Love New York” benefit for the victims of 9/11 only weeks after the attacks, blew away all records for art benefits with his “Artists For Haiti” auction, organized in concert with Bill Clinton and Ben Stiller, raising a whopping $13.7 million.

Which is why Emilio Steinberger of Haunch of Venison told CNN:

“This kind of event brings back the human factor to it. 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.”

That’s how we do it. That’s the credo of New York City: If reality sucks, change it.

And in fact, I’m not entirely sure that galleries won’t benefit in the long run.  The auction houses have done a fine job of sweeping up some of the best material on the secondary market, and of focusing the attentions of collectors on their sales, the big numbers for which make headlines across the world.  Now it’s the galleries’ turn.  Will more new collectors start to pay attention to those storefront spaces they’ve shied away from in the past? Will they be, in fact, more likely — in the philanthropic spirit for which American collectors are well known — to make an extra effort to do more business there, instead of at the auctions? Could be.

Somehow, on the eve of the next election, I can’t hep but think of how fitting are Barack Obama’s words on the night he was elected to the presidency in 2008. They’re words all Americans should keep close to their hearts – but perhaps, for right now, those affected by last week’s devastations most of all. They spoke of  his belief in what he called “that fundamental truth”:

“[That] out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes, we can.”

So let’s stop, please, with the histrionics and the drama.  Yes, there is work to do. But anyone who is a true New Yorker, and anyone who has really lived in the art world, knows this:  it will be done.  And in the end,  to paraphrase the immortal Bob Marley, “every little thing, gonna be all right.”

UPDATE: here’s one I missed – duly noted from Gallerist:

Christie’s has sent out the following message:



David Hillemann has offered his climate controlled team operated if gate 53′ van in NYC today that could assist with transport.  Call him at  410-241-0700.


If you know of any initiatives to help, please provide details in the comments section, along with any contact information you might have available.  Thanks.

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