It’s cold and gray on Thursday, three days post-Sandy. DUMBO, one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm (its name is an acronym for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass”), is still assessing the damage. The area was mostly quiet, with the electricity back on and several stores open for business. Many buildings closest to the river were still pumping water out of their basements and ground floors.
DUMBO is home to many galleries and art spaces. Smack Mellon, a nonprofit gallery and studio space, is closest to the water; its big front windows look out onto a cobblestone street separating the brick building from Brooklyn Bridge Park and the water just beyond. In addition to a spacious gallery on the upper floor, Smack Mellon also runs yearlong artist residencies in the basement. The studios belonging to all seven artists, who were about halfway through their programs, were completely flooded and their work destroyed.
On Thursday afternoon, a team of workers stood outside the gallery, cleaning any materials salvaged from the studio wreckage. “It’s like someone shook the building and dumped everything out,” observed one of the volunteers. There were tables piled with faux-gold trophies and badges and scraps of carpet rescued from the studio belonging to Ghost of a Dream, an artist group. Like the other Smack Mellon artists, Adam Eckstrom, half of the group, was wearing a yellow slicker, rubber pants and boots as he waded through the remains of his studio. He said that many of his materials–“lottery tickets, baseball cards, love letters: the ephemera of other people’s hopes and dreams”–had been lost in the flood. All that remained were the trophies, currently being rinsed in tubs of bleach and laid out on a table to dry.
Suzanne Kim, Smack Mellon’s director of exhibitions, explained that, like many New Yorkers, she hadn’t expected the storm surge to be so catastrophic. “With Irene, we only got 6 inches of water in the basement. So this time we picked everything off the floor and put it onto tables, but it wasn’t enough.” Kim and her team had been pumping water out of the studios since Tuesday; by Thursday the electricity had come back on, and the drains in the basement started to work. Eckstrom showed me the water line in his space, about 6 feet from the ground.
It wasn’t all bad news. The upstairs gallery, showing work by Adriane Colburn and Cheryl Molnar, was unharmed. Coincidentally, Kim pointed out, both artists’ work addresses the interactions between humans, nature and technology.
Many other DUMBO galleries–Amos Eno, Minus Space, the Dumbo Arts Center, A.I.R., Klompching–are located on the second floor of 111 Front Street, a building a few blocks uphill from the water. Most were closed on Thursday, but looked clean and dry, the art hanging on the walls unharmed.