Monday, November 26, 2012

A Short Slide Show of our Sandy Vacation

I had a dream a few nights ago that Manhattan flooded again, only this time the water was a clear Caribbean blue, and it shimmered behind the glass doors and windows of the ground floor spaces it steadily filled. At one point, the wall of water surged to about 20 feet high, knocking over pedestrians and spilling onto the city streets its contents that normally remain submerged, like fish and even, to my temporary surprise, a rather huge crocodile. Ahhh, I eventually thought...the legend is true...they live in the sewers. Mercifully, I woke up before the huge reptile had a chance to munch on anyone.

We are in reconstruction mode at the gallery. It's taking a while because of the unique situation of our building (in which all the basements are connected and it was impossible to pump out the water from one space without the water from the others just spilling back in). Also contributing to the delay was the lack of electricity for 10 days; the lack of space to spread out the debris (so it could be sifted through for salvageable versus irreparably damaged objects); and the need to essentially rip out the basements, rip out the gallery walls, and rip out the gallery floors (none of which could begin until the contents of our basement and gallery space itself were safely moved and the basement had been detoxified). Fun times, let me tell you.

I imagine it's tough when you're not on the scene of such a disaster to imagine what it's really like. The types of responses to accounts by arts writers I've read in some places strike me as so heartless and, well, some of them downright clueless, that I thought I'd share what it feels like to have the business you've struggled to build for years get washed away overnight. It's with that goal in mind, I present a slide show of our Sandy vacation:

Pre Sandy:

The Friday before the storm we had an opening in the gallery. One commenter has asked why we would schedule an opening three days before a storm that would damage our space so badly. The answer to that, as is the answer to many such questions, is we had no idea the storm would damage our space so badly. It was an unprecedented storm with unprecedented consequences. We did prepare. We returned to our space on three separate occassions as the storm approached and the warnings became more dire. Each time we moved more of the gallery's contents to higher ground. The last time we went over to the gallery, just a few hours before all public transport shut down and we were truly worried about how we'd get home, we moved 80% of the art in our space up on tables in the main space, and moved everything still in basement to at least 30 inches off the floor. We truly believed we had prepared for the worst that could happen.

Post-Sandy Day One:

The Tuesday after the storm we had no electricity in our apartment, there was no public transportation, and the reports on our battery-operated transistor radio were not good. We walked the 40 minute walk to the gallery about 10 am.

I made the mistake of having two coffees during our walk and by the time we reached the gallery I had to make a bee-line for the bathroom. You have to remember, the space was very dark. Our floors had clearly had water on them, and were buckling in places, but there were no waterlines on the walls. I felt relieved that we had dodged a bullet.

From the back of the gallery as I washed my hands, when Murat had found a light source and peered into our basement, I heard him moan simply "We are fucked." This is what he saw as he looked down into our basement (this space runs the entire length of the gallery and is 7 feet high):

I freaked out, of course. We began texting and calling friends, the landlord, our neighbors, and our insurance company. We couldn't see much because there was only a foot of space between the ceiling and the waterline, but what we could see was surreal. Heavy objects, like a sofa, banging up against the ceiling; hundreds of pens and packing peanuts dotting the water surface; pedestals, and the odd wrapped, framed work of art we had thought would be safe four feet off the ground gracefully floating by. I had an image of this elaborate grotesque ballet taking place under the murky water, of objects huge and small swirling around each other, touching briefly, to then part again.

What else could we do? There we no pumps to be had anywhere in Manhattan, nor generators. We began bailing out the water a bucket at a time. We did this for over an hour, without so much as a dent in the water level (remember, the water we displaced simply spilled back in from the other basements...our building takes up a full city was millions of gallons we were hopelessly trying to bail). We relented.

We then began fishing out whatever we could. I strapped a flashlight to the end of a painter's extension pole and from the second step kept reaching out at anything I could steer back toward the opening to haul up. We did this for several cold, soggy hours. Each new corpse of some previously treasured object we dredged out breaking my heart all over again.

Eventually it got dark, and we headed home.

Post-Sandy Day Two:

We returned to find the pumping of water our landlords had begun at various places around our building (with generators and pumps they had sent to Maine and Pennsylvania for) had lowered the water in our basement about 2 feet. Here's what we could see on Day Two:

Day Two was spent much as had been Day One, fishing out whatever we could safely reach. At one point I grew so desperate I almost entered the water (which was about 4 feet deep). An image of me slipping on something, falling under the water, and getting trapped there held me back. 

We also began hauling things out onto the street, where we had light at least, to help triage the damaged property. On one hand, the cold weather helped prevent the eventual mold from growing as quickly as it could. On the other hand, it made trying to sift through dripping wet objects outside perfectly miserable. The scene on 27th street would eventually become so grotesque, with garbage piled 10 feet high and barely any room to move around, this photo looks quaint in comparison. 

We eventually were forced to surrender the effort to nightfall again.  

Post-Sandy Day 3:

We're thoroughly exhausted by day three, covered in bruises, bodies aching, and yet the work had really just begun. Unfortunately,the steady progress that had been being made in pumping out the sea water in days one and two was stalled and even began reversing when a floating heating tank in one of the spaces ruptured a water main and new (at least cleaner) water started filling the basements back up again. It also got much colder on this day. 

Day 3 didn't see much progress.

Post-Sandy Day Four:

We came into the space to find the water significantly lower!

The lower the water got, though, the more the horror grew in some respects. Entire archives of important (to us anyway) exhibitions were lost. Signed copies of books, personal treasures, irreplaceable art...all lost.

Meanwhile the gallery itself began to look like an art MASH unit. 

I can't bring myself to show you any images of the damaged artwork. I don't think it's fair to the artists, and it's heartbreaking to me. Just imagine the walls dotted (like the worst curated exhibition you've ever seen) with dripping artworks and every square inch of the mangled floor, tables, and benches, and counters covered with soggy dirty documents, photos, catalogs, etc. 

Here's how it still looked several days in, when we had finally moved the artwork into safe storage and could finally move around a bit:

 Our space looks much better now...that it's empty and the demolition is about to begin in earnest. I hope to show you photos of a shiny new space in a few weeks.


Blogger Kurt Ankeny-Beauchamp said...

Mr. Winkleman:

So very sorry to hear about the ordeal of these past weeks. It looks like a truly draining event, and the fact that you're sharing it here is very eye-opening for those of us not in the area that haven't gotten too much outside Jerry Saltz's report of the devastation.

I know gathering all of this together and posting it (and therefore reliving it a bit) would be the last thing on my mind, but I thank you for the opportunity to see things second-hand.

I wish the best for your rebuilding efforts and hope that 2013 brings a beautiful renewal of your business.

11/26/2012 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Claire Jervert said...

Ed add Murat,

I share your grief and horror not just at my studio (across the street) but at family homes on the north shore of NJ. I hope you will be able to look back on this as a new be beginning and heal from the lost as rapidly possible.

best always to you and your artists.

11/26/2012 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Thanks for this, Ed. I first read about 27th Street from Roberta Smith's article in that Saturday's Times, and naturally I feared the worst. It sounds at least that you prepared as well as you reasonably could. I read as well about artists' studios (and their lifework) being totally destroyed, like Rachel Beach's studio in Greenpoint, which is right near Diana Puntar's - both of which I've visited several times. No matter what anyone may think of the Chelsea art business, it is still some people's life work and deserves to be respected for that. When you're open again, I'll stop in to reminisce and talk.

Larry Rinkel

11/26/2012 03:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Lori Winkleman said...

Ed and Murat,

My heart sunk when I seen the news and a flush of reality hit me. It is very important to inform family that you are okay and I want to apologize for not keeping family posted. I thank you for your posts that you both were okay.

The flood from Floyd taught me that my personal belonging are just material that can be replaced. It is different when it is your livelihood and I know (since we Winklemans are survivors)that you will dry yourself off and be stronger than before.

Lori Winkleman-Diaz

11/26/2012 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ed, thanks for a truly cogent appraisal of the effect of the storm on the gallery. You've often been in my thoughts these past few weeks as I've imagined to what extent you all may have been effected by the storm. I see now that reality has clearly exceeded my imaginings. I'm not sure that you saw an earlier note I sent you but to reiterate, I have been very much impressed by the optimism you've been putting forward throughout your ordeal, I'm sure it has been inspirational to those around you who need it most. Best of luck going forward! CLJ.

11/26/2012 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I've been following your situation via friends and Facebook. Deep condolences to you both, Ed and Murat, and to your artists as well. May renovaton proceed smoothly. Call on your friends. We all will do what we can for you.

11/27/2012 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anna Jaap said...

Dear Ed,

A random search on an art-related topic led me to your blog. In a matter of moments, I went from feeling delighted to see your name to being incredibly saddened by the devastion of the gallery. All best to you and Murat as you move forward.

1/06/2013 02:36:00 PM  

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