Commercial galleries Fairs Disasters USA

Solidarity after Sandy

New Yorkers set aside rivalries, lending a hand to the worst hit

Bortolami affected by Hurricane Sandy

Basking in the sun in Miami Beach, it seems difficult to believe that just over a month ago New York City and the East Coast of the US were hit by one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent history. As well as the loss of life, the storm threatened manifold businesses, including Chelsea’s art galleries. Particularly hard hit were streets in the 20s, between 10th and 11th Avenues, from major dealers including David Zwirner (K18) to small spaces such as Wallspace (N20).

And yet not one of the flood-hit dealers who had planned to attend Art Basel Miami Beach cancelled, and the fair’s organisers bent over backwards to help. “We had 36 galleries affected, and our mandate was ‘make it happen’. We ignored the usual deadlines, moved around stand layouts to accommodate changed displays and gave payment plans to help [those that were the] worst struck,” says Marc Spiegler, the fair’s director.

The problem for many of those affected was, and remains, a question of cash flow. Stefania Bortolami (J9), whose eponymous gallery (above, post-Sandy) was badly damaged, says: “Both our gallery and storage areas were flooded, and art conservation has to start immediately to prevent further ­deterioration. It’s the same for construction?—you need to start at once. But insurance payments only kick in later [and] in the meantime, you have to pay the conservator and the contractors.”

The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) has set up a relief fund, which has already raised more than $1m. The food stands at the fair have collection boxes for the fund, and the fair itself has given $50,000, as have the Zwirner and Mitchell-Innes & Nash (C9) galleries. The gallerist Lucy Mitchell-Innes, who is also the president of the ADAA, says: “We have already paid out a lot so that the most catastrophically affected can meet payroll, for example.”

What has come out of the disaster is an uplifting story of solidarity and community in what is normally a highly competitive environment. “We received an amazing outpouring of help,” says Jessie Washburne-Harris of Harris Lieberman (J14). The Zwirner ar­tists Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Suzan Frecon came in to help with the mop-up. Andrew Kreps (J5) offered his gallery to fellow dealer Friedrich Petzel (K16). At the Nada fair, the gallerist Zach Feuer, who lost much of what he planned to bring, was lent works by other dealers to put in his booth. And across the board, dealers report that there was no “bottom fishing”, with collectors hoping to take advantage of the flood to ask for discounts.

Even the auction houses helped out, including Christie’s, which offered office space to dealers who did not have internet access. “It was a moment of community, solidarity and generosity among galleries,” says Jane Hait of Wallspace. “Our basement was flooded to the ceiling. Harris Lieberman lent us a viewing room and the ADAA fund was brilliant. We filled in the form and we got a cheque; it arrived the very next day.”

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