Disasters News USA

An exodus from Red Hook

Some clients pull their works out of Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services’ Brooklyn warehouse after damage caused by Superstorm Sandy

Flooding on Imlay Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where Christie's has its storage facility (the white building in the distance). Photo: flickr user adobelis

Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS), a wholly owned subsidiary of the auction house that stores and protects art for private and institutional owners, is facing client defections and complaints arising from damage to works of art stored at its Brooklyn facility during Superstorm Sandy.

Christie’s opened the six-storey storage facility in 2010. Formerly a warehouse of the historic New York Dock Company, it is located near the Upper Bay tidal waterway near the Atlantic Ocean in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. The building was hit by at least one storm surge during last October’s Superstorm Sandy. Melissa Abernathy, Christie’s communications manager, said that CFASS has measures in place for extreme weather that were implemented and that the backup generators worked, but “there was damage on the ground floor because the surge was not expected”.

“The surge was the only thing that took us by surprise,” she said, and only “a handful of clients” had art that was damaged. When asked how many that constituted, she explained, “‘Handful’ is the way the business would like to characterise the numbers.”

But a week after Sandy, Simon Hornby, the president of art services at Crozier Fine Arts, a large provider of art storage, transportation, and engineering in the US, visited CFASS to coordinate the removal of an art collection of flat works and sculpture on behalf of an insurance company. He was also there to oversee their relocation to Crozier’s own climate-controlled facility in Chelsea. “We weren’t there alone,” Hornby said. “Other companies were also there collecting works for other clients.” Christie’s understood that clients wanted their works relocated, he says. “They were not obstructive. They were still dealing with the aftermath of the flood.”

Abernathy confirmed some works of art were on the ground floor but would not discuss the number, why they were there, or the extent of the damage. One art-world insider says, “Quite a few of my clients suffered damage.” Most sources for this story, because of the sensitivity of the information, requested anonymity.

Christie’s storage facility is not the only one to have clients’ work damaged by Sandy, Hornby said. Between CFASS, other storage facilities, individuals and galleries, Crozier has taken in around 4,000 works, he said. Though Crozier’s facility is located in Chelsea, which was also heavily flooded, its clients suffered no Sandy losses, said the founder Bob Crozier. The facility removed art to higher floors, Crozier himself spent the night in Chelsea and had 75 people on the ground communicating by walkie-talkie the day after.

With flood and water damage, typically the owner of the art makes an insurance claim which the insurer pays, explained Victor Wiener, the art appraiser. “Owners are not keen on having damage publicised and are reluctant to talk for obvious commercial reasons,” he added. “In any claims situation, however, frequently you can’t keep it secret. The insurance company will go after the party that caused the damage,” he said, and information will come out in litigation.

One person estimated that his own clients suffered damages in the tens of millions of dollars, with total losses perhaps running in the hundreds of millions. A conservator said, “We are treating art from that site” in response to calls from both clients and insurance companies, adding that most of the works were salvageable. Abernathy of Christie’s described the repairs to the first floor as “basically cosmetic, replacing dry wall and floorboards”.

Hornby says Crozier has received a number of inquiries from CFASS clients, among others, who he believes are shopping around for new storage space. When asked whether CFASS had lost clients because of Sandy damage, Abernathy said, “I can’t comment on our relationship with clients.”

“There are art market rumours that a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the insurers” has been discussed but not filed, said one source. “It will be difficult to assess monetary loss in value until restoration is completed,” this person said, adding that this may be several years away. “Conservators are working up to the gills on claims from Christie’s.”

Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services’ Brooklyn warehouse. Photo: Property Shark
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