New York’s Art World Braces for Hurricane Irene

albert e bachus New Yorks Art World Braces for Hurricane Irene

Albert E. Backus's "The Hurricane" (Photo: Pocock Fine Art & Antiques)

With Hurricane Irene expected to hit New York on Sunday, the region’s art world–including both the city and areas heavily populated by collectors and dealers, like the Hamptons–is taking action to mitigate any potential damage from the category 2 storm, which is currently generating sustained winds of 115 miles per hour down in North Carolina.

A map of hurricane flood zones released by the New York City government shows much of West Chelsea, which is home to many of New York’s largest blue-chip galleries in “Zone A,” where residents “face the highest risk of flooding from a hurricane’s storm surge,” according to the map. That area includes blocks between 20th and 26th Streets, from Tenth Avenue to the Hudson River.

Julia Joern, of the David Zwirner Gallery, which is located on West 19th Street, west of 10th Avenue (just south of that high-risk zone), said that staff members are “moving what art we have in the gallery to higher ground” and off-site, to a warehouse in Queens.

As Ms. Joern noted, the hurricane threat comes at a peculiar time in the art industry’s calendar, since most galleries are shuttered for the summer and are preparing for their September shows.

Update, 2:45 p.m.: Luhring Augustine, which is located on West 24th Street, squarely within Zone A–the area that now Mayor Bloomberg has marked for mandatory evacuation–is also taking precautions. Associate director Monica Schwerin said that, like many of their neighbors in the area, the gallery is placing sandbags in front of doors to prevent water from seeping in, in the event that public drainage systems overflow. Artworks are being stored well above the floor. “We have water sensors, and the alarm company notifies us soon as they are blocked,” Ms. Schwerin said. Many employees live in the area, she added, and will be watching events unfold.

“We take extra precautions whenever we have a storm like this,” said Andrew Faintych, the chief operating officer of art shipping firm Atelier 4, which operates out of Long Island City in Queens. “We’re not in a flood zone,” he said, and emphasized that was intentional.

Mr. Faintych said that the firm is keeping works in storage off the ground, to prevent damage in the event of flooding, and is rescheduling shipments, keeping their moving trucks off the road. “It’s mainly a scheduling issue he said,” he said, noting that the same actions are taken in the event of a regular, heavy rainstorm or blizzard.

“There’s a lot of activity right now throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic and New England,” said Robert Pittinger, the national director of underwriting at AXA Art Insurance said. Mr. Pittinger said that some clients are moving art to warehouses.

Lower East Side galleries appear to be comparatively better off than their Chelsea brethren. Even in the case of a category 3 or 4 hurricane, the New York flood map says that Orchard and Ludlow Streets, which are home to many of the city’s youngest galleries, should avoid flood damage. In fact, one of the city’s hurricane relief shelters, the Seward Park High School, is located mere blocks from L.E.S. mainstays like Rachel Uffer Gallery and Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Update, 4:00 p.m.: Most New York museums have announced that they will be closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Update, 2:30 p.m.: In an e-mail, Sotheby’s worldwide director of press and corporate affairs Dianna Phillips said, “We will have staff here all weekend, including engineers, management, art handlers and security, monitoring the situation carefully and addressing anything that requires attention.”

Mr. Pittinger said that he had talked to plenty of collectors who were being proactive about the storm, securing windows and moving their art into safe locations within their houses. The best response, he said, was to plan for a hurricane well in advance. “Don’t wait until one is churning in the Gulf,” he said. “Start planning in March, April and May.”

Update, 5:00 p.m.: Bob Crozier, the founder of art shipping and storage company Crozier Fine Arts, told The Observer that teams of art handlers and conservators have been working throughout the week in the Hamptons, New York City and the surrounding region, in order to secure artworks or move them off of balconies and beaches and into safe locations like warehouses and residences. “There are hundreds of millions of dollars of art and objects along the shores,” Mr. Crozier said.

“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” Mr. Crozier said, when asked to gauge his clients’ response to the incoming storm compared to previous storm threats. Come Monday, after the storm has passed–if, in fact, a storm does arrive–he said that he anticipates calls from collectors who did not act to secure property. “We’re backed up by a lot of conservators,” he said.