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In Chelsea

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Hurricane Sandy brought to New York much more wind than rain, and the greatest damage has been near the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound, and the two rivers. We all knew which neighbourhoods faced the most immediate danger – Battery Park, Red Hook, Rockaway – but it wasn’t until late last night, safe at home, that I realised the hurricane spelled trouble for most of the city’s art galleries, clustered together in Chelsea a block from the Hudson. I went down this morning. The water has receded (mostly – 21st Street was impassible today), but there’s still no power, and the damage is total. Every celebrity architect you can name has retrofitted one of these spaces, but they weren’t made to withstand this kind of onslaught. They’re low-slung warehouses, mostly, with garage doors at their entrances. The hurricane warped many of the doors; I saw a team of dealers trying to pry open a metal gate with a crowbar.

At Gagosian on 21st Street the water had reached waist height; they keep the blue chip art uptown, but through the gate I could see a Henry Moore on a plinth high enough to evade the flooding. The water seemed to have done the same at Gladstone – where an exhibition by Thomas Hirschhorn about the Costa Concordia shipwreck had just closed. 303 Gallery had its glass door blown in, and a whole wall had buckled. The worst damage seems to be on 19th Street, home to, among others, David Zwirner Gallery. Last night 19th was a river, and today I saw four photographs by James Welling still hanging on a pristine white wall gashed by an eye-level horizon of mud. The real question is what was in storage in the basement.

I bumped into a friend who works at one of the bigger galleries on 24th Street. They’d had three feet of water in the gallery, and he and four others were mopping up the aftermath. How bad is the damage, neighbourhood-wide? ‘A couple hundred million dollars?’ he estimated. Horrible, and it will take a week or two before the toll is clear – and yet, unlike many Americans, at least the galleries have insurance.


  1. A.J.P. Crown says:

    ‘A couple hundred million dollars?’

    Oh, come on. Some people died and others had their houses blown away, and you want me to feel sorry for Larry Gagosian? That’s completely sick!

    • pangloss says:

      Why would you think anyone wanted you to be sorry? It was a statement and an indication that along with the usual wreckage of disasters other things besides lives and house are lost.

      • A.J.P. Crown says:

        Well, except Jason Farago says: “‘A couple hundred million dollars?’ he estimated. Horrible, and it will take a week or two before the toll is clear”

        It turns out we don’t need to worry about Gagosian. According to the NY Times he moved his stock uptown and had any work that remained hung high on the walls to avoid getting wet.

  2. Smectymnuus says:

    I just created an account simply to say that this is by far the most idiotic thing I’ve ever read on the LRB. They are still discovering bodies of Americans, both insured and uninsured, for Christ sake.

    I think I speak for all subscribers when I express incredulity that the editors think we want to read this unthinking crap, the like of which is so readily available elsewhere on the internet.

  3. former_subscriber says:

    This newspaper gets worse and worse and worse…

  4. rwhalley says:

    Well, you don’t speak for this subscriber and I don’t quite see whats so idiotic about this post. Surely someone is allowed to describe an aspect of this massive event other than the most basic ‘this is terrible, people have died’ one.
    Anyway, if you want to do the math, Sandy hasn’t been too bad at all: 70-odd deaths. Ha! there are train crashes and ferries sinking all over the place where the death toll is way higher.

  5. I found it tasteless, too, coming when it did – in the very eye of the storm. These are matters you consider later, after the mourning. But I wouldn’t criticise the LRB Blog for carrying it. It does no real harm to be reminded of the ways other people react to these things.

  6. Smectymnuus says:

    I should add that I also object to the author’s prose style, which overuses “but” to a distressing extent. The post just clips along in its triteness and offers nothing in the way of food for thought.

    I certainly agree that there are appropriate ways to respond that avoid textual hand-wringing, but one should look to Emily Witt’s entry above for an example of how to do it rather than to this post.

  7. alex says:

    Perhaps it’s not the topic itself that’s offensive – art galleries could be a relevant barometer for conveying aspects of the catastrophe. It’s the completely empathyless tone and outlook of the author, for whom the storms and floods act as an accessory to his own look-at-me-I’m where-it’s-at-ness. He’s in the eye of the storm alright, but in a bad way.

  8. former_subscriber says:

    The post itself is not so bad. Just rather dim. But it encapsulates the slide in editorial standards which has been happening at the LRB for several years now. It just got self-satisfied and stale. I have no clue what it stands for anymore, what it thinks, or what it wants. Instead of insight or originality or real authority, we just get the husk of this supercilious style, and this really condescending attitude, without the chops to back it up. It reminds me of the New Yorker.

    • alex says:

      I actually like its whimsy and certain elements which put it in contrast to the NYRB and the New Yorker. Maybe it’s not so much the LRB as London which doesn’t have a coherent intellectual style (as opposed to intelligent individuals), and therefore has to commission self-regarding scenesters in New York to tell it what to think. Hobsbawm, the last Londoner?

      • A.J.P. Crown says:

        The New York Times has a more straightforward article on the same topic. Rather than soliciting a guess of $200m damage from an unnamed friend he meets on the street the Times’s authors quote gallery owners who admit they haven’t got a clue yet what the flood has cost them.

        • alex says:

          Thanks for the link. I didn’t mean I liked this piece, I meant the LRB in general. But yes, that bit where he casually solicits random damage estimates from his unnamed ‘insider source’ is especially odd (not to mention the ponderous caveat ‘it will take a week or two before the toll is clear’).

  9. Marie Luyt says:

    Well, I found this blog interesting. As a traveller from a distant land I spent five days jammed up with 25 arty types in a tiny hostel in 27th Street, Chelsea. On day four of my stay I attended the opening of a an exhibition by a lady artist from Iowa, the one whose bunk bed was right opposite mine, in one of those art galleries in 24th Street. The rest of the evening went by in a whirl, as we flew from one opening to the next in Chelsea, up and down the stairways, peering in at those open garage doors, gaping at the New York girls in their short dresses and impossibly high-heeled shoes. It was one of the best nights of my life. And so, learning that the entire street had been submerged was impossible to imagine.It brought home Sandy’s devastation better than anything else could have done for me. And I did feel for the New Yorkers who now had to face far darker realities.

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