Post-Sandy, the Art World Heads to the Rockaways


Over the course of several days last week, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach went from tweeting snapshots of Rockaway Beach surfers in wacky Halloween costumes to devastating photos of the heavily damaged Rockaway peninsula. The popular surfing area in Queens is less than 20 miles from Biesenbach’s Long Island City museum. “There are whole families standing outside in the cold, in front of everything they own, kids not wanting to leave their ruined toys,” he told A.i.A.

On Nov. 1, Biesenbach, who spends summers in the Rockaways and recently purchased a house there, was arranging bus and van rentals to take 100 volunteers and supplies to a distribution center at Beach 84th Street the following Saturday. In groups of two they went door to door making “shopping lists,” delivered supplies, and helped clear basements.

He’s organizing another trip tomorrow (particularly needed are people with plumbing, construction and social work expertise), and soliciting advice about preventing mold in flooded homes and salvaging saltwater-logged community gardens. Here’s a link to urgently needed supplies and skills for Saturday’s trip, which leaves tomorrow at 10 A.M. from 4 West 54th St.

On Wednesday night, Biesenbach announced on Twitter (where he’s been extremely active this past week) that MoMA PS1 is turning its Art Basel Miami Beach party on Dec. 7 at the Delano into a Sandy fundraiser.

Our conversation with Biesenbach was briefly interrupted when he received a call about donated heavy-duty tents; equipped with generators, they will be able to provide heat and light for volunteers and residents. A repairman he spoke to said that electricity might not be restored to the area for four to six weeks.

Miriam Katzeff, director of Team Gallery in SoHo and cofounder of the nonprofit Primary Information, spoke to A.i.A. on Thursday. The Sunday before the storm Katzeff went surfing in Far Rockaway, and noticed an unusual number of cops and reporters on the boardwalk.

Last weekend Katzeff delivered supplies and helped clear out basements. “The biggest thing to stress,” she told A.i.A., “is that you don’t have to go with a large group. People are tweeting, starting Facebook groups and sending e-mails about what neighborhood they are leaving from and offering rides.”

She went on: “Most residents who are out there are not wealthy so the city doesn’t feel the same urgency to restore power as it did in Manhattan. If this high-profile group [of art-world people] shames Bloomberg into getting more money and workers out there, maybe the area won’t turn into a permanent disaster. What the neighborhood really needs are people who are willing to do tough work there-clearing debris and rebuilding. Otherwise no one should expect to enjoy the beach next summer.”