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Slammed By Hurricane Sandy, New York Galleries Seek Recovery At Art Basel

Sandy damage in Manhattan.jpg
By Timothy Krause (WarmSleepy)/Flickr

Galleries were flooded, artwork destroyed and the New York art word left reeling when Hurricane Sandy hit at the end of October.

A month later, several of those galleries damaged in the historic storm are now in Miami for Art Basel.

It's a crucial time for them to recoup some of their losses. This is the last major art fair until the Armory in March 2013.

The David Zwirner gallery is located in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. The gallery’s spokeswoman, Julia Joern, said they've had to completely gut their building as a result of Sandy’s floodwaters. Joern is not worried about the gallery's going out of business but she says it’s crucial to make sales at Art Basel this year.

"Before the hurricane we were only going to have a couple of representatives there, from the sales staff,” said Joern. “But, after the hurricane, everyone is going. We don't really have a gallery were we can function so we have to go to the fair en masse." 

Joern also described going to Art Basel Miami Beach as a morale booster. For people who make art their lives, losing lots of work in a natural disaster can be devastating for reasons beyond the monetary impact.

After the storm, employees at the David Zwirner Gallery gathered up pieces of art and put them in an area they called the hospital.

“We had all these folding tables laid out where we were trying to assess the damage that was done to the art work,” explained Joern. “Personally, it was incredibly emotional and really difficult for me. I really couldn’t be around the damaged art. It was something I didn’t expect.” 

However, David Zwirner was among the luckier galleries. It’s well-established and it keeps a lot of its artwork off-site so its inventory hasn't taken as hard of a hit. 

Fellow Chelsea-based gallery owner Derek Eller was not so lucky.  Like a lot of galleries, Eller stored artwork in his basement which then flooded during Sandy.

"It essentially looked like an Olympic-sized swimming pool,”  Eller said. “We had about five feet of water in there. We had approximately 750 works of art that was submerged in water."

Eller, who is currently in Miami at the NADA fair, is not sure his insurance will cover his losses.  He and many other gallery owners still don't know how much money they lost in Sandy. It takes time for specialists to appraise damaged art and determine what is salvageable and what's not.  

But, there is some relief for the worst-hit galleries. The Art Dealers Association of America created a relief fund following Sandy. The David Zwirner Gallery donated $50,000 to the fund while Derek Eller has received $10,000 from the fund to help rebuild his gallery.