Last week, in a move of calendar-manipulating bravado, my classmate Jessica and I moved our MLK day of service up a few days and traveled to the Cultural Recovery Center in New York, where we assisted with the recovery of paintings damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The storm surge caused by the hurricane flooded many galleries and artists’ studios, especially those in Chelsea, an area considered to be the epicenter of contemporary art in America. Immediately after the storm, the American Institute for Conservation’s Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT) teamed up with the Museum of Modern Art and other organizations to disburse information to the public about caring for their damaged art, including a free public information session at MoMA on November 4th. The Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation (FAIC) and AIC-CERT opened the Cultural Recovery Center on December 10th, which is funded by grants from Sotheby’s, the New York Community Trust, the Smithsonian Institution, and many other generous supporters. Conservators and other cultural heritage professionals have been volunteering their time since then to assist and advise artists, gallery owners, historic sites and archives, libraries, museums, and collectors with recovery of their Sandy-damaged pieces.
Third-year fellow Sara Levin also happened to be volunteering that day, so after an unexpected WUDPAC mini-reunion, the three of us performed mold mitigation and grime removal on several paintings and works of art by artists who brought their damaged works to the CRC. Several of these paintings had been submerged in 3-7 feet of water for several hours during the storm, and some of them had severe mold damage. Later in the day, we also worked with artist Ronnie Landfield to dust his huge canvas paintings before rolling them on large tubes to reduce deformations caused by their submersion when his Tribeca studio flooded during the storm. In return, he regaled us during lunch with tales of being a teenager on the New York art scene in the 1960s.
We were glad to help out with the recovery effort, but we were surprised by the relative emptiness of the space. As CRC studio manager Anna Studebaker explained, a lot of the artists whose studios were affected by the storm threw out their damaged pieces, perhaps believing they couldn’t be saved or possibly on advice from emergency management officials who might have considered the wet and quickly molding artworks to be a health hazard. With every passing disaster, we learn more about the measures to take before and after, and this one is no different. We need to use the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Hurricane Sandy and the countless stories of loss to get the word out: we can save your art! (Or at the very least, tell you how to save your art!) Click here to find out more about the CRC or contact them to assist with your damaged works.