Hurricane Sandy, the Lever House and a note on Climate Change / by John McGurk

Downed trees the night of Sandy

On this election eve, NYC and the surrounding region is caught in between two worlds.  While many parts of the area start getting back to normal, there are still large segments of the population without housing, electricity and many basic necessities.  In my corner of the world, the galleries in Chelsea are reeling from major damage and artists are cleaning the muck out of their studios.  With all of this comes countless amounts of damaged and destroyed artwork.  

My neighborhood was one of those effected by the blackout, so for close to a week it felt like NYers were living in two different cities.  Above 40th Street the city churned as normal, while life below this marker was in a holding pattern, with the desperation increasing palpably over the span of a few days.  

With no electricity, heat and dropping temperatures, it was inspiring to see NYers come together.  It was also very distressing to here stories of people taking advantage of the chaos and darkness in not so inspiring ways.  A couple shots below illustrate the comraderie, with "pedal power" stations being set up outside of the legendary squat ABC No Rio and mega-charging stations found at local coffee shops. 

Pedal power outside ABC No Rio

Need a charge?

With no power and my apartment spotless, I headed uptown to see what the land of the living felt like.  It was a strange walk, very few cars on the road and an empty Houston Street, which never happens:

Not a car on Houston Street...

Once uptown, I decided to head over to the Lever House, they always have some interesting artwork on display, and I make it a point to stop by when I am in the area.  I also love the building, the horizontal and vertical planes are perfect, the lobby and courtyards are cozy and the green glass and sleek lines are a testament to the projected dreams of modernism.

The Lever House on 53rd Street

As usual, the Lever House had some great work on display, which I believe all becomes part of their collection after being exhibited.  In the main lobby there were six large paintings by David Salle displayed throughout the space.  They are all hung on specially made wall panels that float effortlessly.  

The painting's various layers combine 17th and 18th century Flemish tapestry scenes painted in bright hues with shapes of nude models printed with even bolder colors dancing across the canvases.  This approach is effective, successfully wavering between abstraction and representation in a complicated framework and composition.  

"Diana" by David Salle

"Campaign" by David Salle

Outside in the courtyard I was greeted by a 15 foot bronze rat.  I recognized the rat immediately, it is based off the blow-up rat that many unions inflate outside of places they are picketing, generally referencing a specific person or entity that has attracted the wrath of the union.  They pop up all over the city and are a constant reminder of the struggles between labor and various competing forces.

At first I thought that the piece was probably envisioned and created by Tom Sachs, it seemed his style, but then I remembered that the Bruce High Quality Foundation had an exhibition in the lobby earlier in the fall.  With this in mind, I had to assume that the pseudo-Marxist revolutionary group the BHQF had to be responsible for such a pleasurable twist of material and iconography.  

"The New Colossus" by the Bruce High Quality Foundation

All kidding aside, it's a tough time for many New Yorkers, and art, at times like this, sometimes seems silly.  But during and after the dust settles, it is many times artist's creative energies that help bring joy into people's lives and it is important not to lose sight of that fact.

One last thought about the lasting effects of Hurricane Sandy and then I will bid you fine readers goodnight: I believe this event will add a lasting and crucial dimension to the debates raging around "climate change".  From my perspective, after driving up the FDR along the East River the afternoon of the storm and nearly running into the guardrail after my cabbie lost control while driving through an already flooded section of road, it felt like the island of Manhattan was sinking.  This was a very unsettling feeling, one I am afraid I may feel again. 

I won't be surprised when a couple years from now the conversation starts to get louder about other coastal and island cities that use locks and dams to protect them from the tides, and how we can implement these for NYC.  I leave you with a creepy image of people walking along the FDR in the aftermath of the storm.  For this one moment in my life, I really loved cars.

No cars on the FDR and people just walking around