Bruce Silverstein’s New York art gallery was extensively damaged during Hurricane Sandy, but that didn’t stop him from participating in this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach.
“The gallery was destroyed,” he said Wednesday as the international art fair opened its doors to VIPs for a sneak peak. “It was a group effort to get everything together and shipped.”
Silverstein is not alone. More than 260 galleries from around the world are showing, and 36 of them are from the Chelsea neighborhood, which sustained major damage and was without power for almost a week during the October storm. But some Chelsea galleries needed help to show at the fair.
“We went there just to talk to all of them and see what the effects were for them. And for a lot of them it was just as simple as extending a payment plan because right now they are waiting for insurance to come in,” said Marc Spiegler, one of the Art Basel directors. “They have to rebuild their galleries, so it’s a cash flow issue. That’s easy enough for us to do. In some cases, people have to bring different art than they planned to. They have to rebuild their stand.”
Lucy Mitchell-Innes, owner of the Mitchell-Innes and Nash Gallery, said her gallery's basement flooded because of the storm. The gallery itself wasn’t impacted because there are steps leading up to the main door.
She is president of the Art Dealers Association of America, and she said the organization created a relief fund for dealers affected by the storm. So far about 40 grants have been given out to those impacted.
“In the second week, we gave 14 grants. Eight of the people were in tears. That’s how desperate the situation was,” she said.
Silverstein said the storm’s impacts will be felt in the art world for a long time, and small galleries will be a disadvantage because of rising rents and costs.
“I think it’s going to be a big problem,” he said.
Spiegler also said the recovery process will take time.
“In the long run, obviously, when you lose things like archives and inventory the effect is quite long. So I think that one of the mistakes is that people might look at these galleries and say ‘Oh, they have reopened. Everything is OK.' But they are going to be rebuilding for years, let’s be honest,” he said.
Meanwhile, other New York galleries weren’t affected, like the McKee Gallery on 745 Fifth Avenue, which brought 35 works to the fair.
“There seems to be a lot of interest already,” said owner Renee McKee as collectors walked around the conference hall.
One of the first collectors in to see the art was Katja Emcke, who lives in Los Angeles. She said she came to browse. She said her husband had liked a painting by artist Michael Williams, which was showing at another fair in Miami, one of the 25 satellite fairs which have popped up over the years.
She said there was so much competition for works of art during the fairs that “sometimes you can’t even get an artist.”
“It seems that it’s getting even more outrageous in terms of prices,” Emcke said. “The art world is getting really fashionable."
Bennett Roberts, owner of the Roberts and Tilton Gallery in Culver City, Calif., said the fair has always been very good for them. He was showing 15 works on the first day of the fair. He said people were saving money to buy expensive works as investments.
“Now I think they will save and put $50,000 towards a piece,” he said.
The official opening to the public is on Thursday, and it runs until Sunday.
Click here for all Art Basel Miami Beach events.