NEW YORK Gallery owners no longer sound as despondent as they did when they returned to their businesses in the strip between 10th and 11th avenues, from 18th to 29th streets, and found flooded basements, high water marks five feet up their walls, and a loss of art, documentation, catalogs and reference books, to say nothing of physical spaces that will need to be rebuilt.
Many have been questioning whether, or to what extent, insurance will cover damage to galleries and artworks as well as lost business days. And the timing could not be worse. Although some galleries are back in business or will soon be, several dealers estimated that the district as a whole will not be fully back to work until mid-December, near the end of the gallery worlds prime selling season, when dealers and artists fortunes typically revive after the slow summer months.
Dealers declined to say what percentage of their annual sales are made in the fall. If I had a dry computer, I could tell you, a gallery owner said. But Linda Blumberg, the executive director of the Art Dealers Association of America, described the season as critical. Theres a pattern of expectation, among buyers as well as dealers, she said, that this is the time when people are engaged in making buying decisions.
Instead, gallery owners expect to spend coming weeks juggling meetings with restoration specialists, contractors and insurance adjusters.
Insurance is a complicated issue for galleries, which require several distinct kinds of policies. Most crucially there is art insurance, which brokers say most galleries carry. According to New York State law art insurance includes flood coverage.
With galleries there is a lot involved, said Brian Frasca, the director of fine arts at the Rampart Group, a brokerage that specializes in insuring galleries, museums and private collections. Does the gallery own the art? Is it on consignment from a collector? He said costs vary based on the size of the gallery and how much art it has, and he noted that galleries do not necessarily insure for the full value of their holdings, on the theory that even in a disaster a percentage of their inventories may survive.
But art insurance does not cover the galleries themselves the physical space and its contents beyond the art or the potential sales lost when the galleries are closed. For that dealers need business and property insurance that specifically includes disaster coverage, which many dealers lack.
Inadequately insured galleries have other options. The Art Dealers Association of America announced a program in which galleries in Zone A, low-lying neighborhoods that could demonstrate that they have been unable to conduct business since the storm, could apply for grants and loans. They need not be members of the association.
Conservators and restoration specialists have jumped into the fray as well, and they have an eager audience: dealers, artists and insurance companies have a shared interest, if for different reasons, in determining what can be saved. When the Museum of Modern Art and representatives from the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team presented a free lecture on the basics of post-disaster conservation, MoMAs auditorium was packed for two sessions.
Just because something is wet, muddy or torn doesnt mean its not recoverable, said Eric Pourchot, the conservation groups institutional advancement director. Thats one of the messages we want to get out. And instead of walking down 21st Street, ringing a bell and saying, Bring out your wet, we decided to get everyone together and see what they need.
Other artists have been able to reach a philosophical view.
So far as I know Ive lost only one piece, said David Kassan, who had some paintings at Gallery Henoch, a painting thats worth about $24,000, and a couple more were damaged. But Ive been volunteering in Staten Island, where people lost their homes, and where theres been loss of life. And in the larger scope of things, what I lost was only a painting.