Sunday, 4 November 2012

Tropical Storm Sandy: Picking Up the Pieces

 As the western United States continues the cleanup after being hit by tropical storm Sandy a few days ago, it seems worth drawing attention in the context of this blog to the cultural property losses. Buildings were flooded, buildings were damaged and destroyed, and in some of them would probably have been housed works of art, antiques and antiquity collections. Most of the New York antiquities dealers (except one whose exact location remains unclear to me) have their shops in the zone the floods, at least, did not reach. As are the major museums containing antiquities (though I am not sure about the ICE store in Queens). What effect however the consequent power cuts had on their environmental control systems and security remains unknown (the museums probably have emergency generators anyway). No reports of antiquities looting have emerged at any rate. Nord Wennstrom however has been among the first to draw attention to the great losses to the art world of the flooding of Chelsea ( Hurricane Sandy devastates Chelsea – center of the contemporary art world). The scale of the losses of privately-owned antiquities however remain unknown. There is an article on the 'World property Channel (Michael Gerrity As Hurricane Sandy Nears U.S. Northeast, Almost 284,000 Mid-Atlantic Homes Valued at $88 Billion at Risk of Property Damage World Property Channel 28th October 2012) which suggests the potential of  damage to at least some material in private collections is clear. The accompanying map showing the flooding in New York indicates both business and residential areas would have been affected.

New York Projected Flood Zones (World Property Channel)

Factors like this need to be taken into account when assessing the arguments of the pro-collecting lobbyists, who suggest that "the best way to protect objects" is to scatter them in private collections all over the place. Well, any ancient Egyptian statue, sarcophagus or mummy (or anything else) in any of the homes flooded in New York is not exactly in a position of safety. Disaster can strike anywhere at any time, even in the heart of America. I wonder how many people escaping the floodwaters by climbing onto the roofs of their houses took their ancient coin collections with them? Or did they give priority to some other possession?

Map of New York City if sea levels rise 3 meters (areas underwater are in light blue). The map was published in 2007 in a report warning about the dangers of unabated climate change and sea level rise. The picture resembles superstorm Sandy's impact on Lower Manhattan. © 2007 2030, Inc. and © 2007 Google. Image courtesy of Architecture 2030,
Interestingly, my internet search for this blog post did not find a large numbers of usable post-event maps of the flood and other damage in New York, but it produced a number of hits on the same CG image which makes an interesting (I think) point: Jason Plautz, '3-D Maps Pictured Sandy's Devastation–Five Years Ago' ("Is the destruction from superstorm Sandy a preview of what's to come as sea levels continue to rise from climate change?") Inside Climate News Nov 1, 2012.

UPDATE 4th Nov 2012:
Thanks to Nathan Elkins for this link: Logan Burruss,'Sandy wreaks havoc on NYC art', CNN November 4, 2012 It strikes me that in the hours and days before the event when over here in Poland I was looking up maps of where the flooding could be expected, there is no mention in any of these articles of any activity of the gallery owners to evacuate the artworks in the basements. What were they thinking?

UPDATE 6th Nov 2012
'Saltz’s Devastating Visit to Chelsea Galleries -- Vulture', November 6, 2012
Once again no mention of any evacuation of objects in the days before the storm hit.

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