New York Gallerists Watch in Fear as Hurricane Joaquin Gathers Strength

The philosophy, according to one dealer, is "better safe than Sandy."

Hurricane Joaquin.Photo National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service.
Hurricane Joaquin.
Photo National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service.

With memories of Superstorm Sandy’s destruction still fresh in their minds, Chelsea gallery owners are casting a watchful eye toward Hurricane Joaquin.

Flood advisories and warnings are in place along much of the East Coast, from Florida to Connecticut, according to CNN as of Friday afternoon, when the storm remained over the Bahamas. Some Chelsea galleries are sending art to higher ground, said one dealer speaking anonymously, on the “better safe than Sandy” philosophy.

Though Joaquin is expected to remain offshore if and when it moves north, billions of dollars of art are at stake if it comes ashore.

Joaquin could prove the first major test to the flood defenses of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new home, which is just across the West Side Highway from the Hudson River. The building is designed to be water-tight even against a flood rising 16½ feet—seven feet higher than Sandy, a press rep pointed out. A mobile aluminum wall nearly the length of two football fields can be put in place in less than seven hours.

About 30 staffers from New York art storage firm Uovo were on the ground in Chelsea on Friday, moving art or advising dealers who are among the company’s 100 or so clients in the neighborhood, said founder Steve Guttmann in a telephone interview. (Uovo has facilities in Long Island City and in Rockland County.)

“Ours the first new post-Sandy art storage facility in the US,” Guttmann boasted. “Our site is 16½ feet above 100-year flood levels. We planned our property with the experience of Sandy behind us.”

Chelsea dealers are even talking about joining the flow of galleries out of the neighborhood, which has been driven by rising rents.

“We’re planning to move some things to our upstairs storage, just to be safe,” says Chelsea dealer Derek Eller, adding that he no longer stores artwork in his basement, which was flooded in 2012. “Let’s hope it’s not another Sandy situation, and if it is, we will definitely have to relocate to the Lower East Side,” he said. (His lease ends in December; his neighbor Wallspace recently closed, and former neighbor Ed Winkleman is moving.)

“Our goal is to sell out and ship our current show, of Teppei Kaneuji, before the storm hits,” said Lisa Carlson, of Jane Lombard Gallery. “If that doesn’t work out, we will move all work in the racks to off site storage and elevate the show.”

However, not everyone is so concerned. Internet jokesters have called in Joaquin Phoenix’s help in a graphic that charts the growing hurricane in parallel with the actor’s changing hairstyles.

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