NY artists struggle to salvage Sandy-damaged art works

Updated 06 November 2012
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NY artists struggle to salvage Sandy-damaged art works

NEW YORK: It was as much a chance to learn about drying techniques and mold control as support-group meeting for those gathered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on Sunday for a session on salvaging art damaged in the flood waters of superstorm Sandy.
As New York City emerges from a week of power outages and public transportation shut-downs and tens of thousands of people find themselves homeless, artists and gallerists in the art hub of West Chelsea in Manhattan are facing ruined galleries, flooded storage facilities and water-logged artwork. Scores of galleries saw flood water of four feet (1.2 meters) in ground-floor exhibition spaces, while a power outage in most of downtown Manhattan for five days further hampered the clean-up process. This weekend Chelsea seemed like a construction site, with waste bins on sidewalks and workers tearing up flooring and walls.
“Almost no art object is immune from this kind of abuse, and the vast majority are very sensitive to it,” said James Coddington, the Museum of Modern Art’s chief conservator, after addressing dozens of artists and specialists in midtown Manhattan.
He said he hoped to offer “hope and some realistic perspective,” as well as warn about the health hazards of cleaning up. Flood water can be contaminated with fuel and sewage, and the deluge may have created structural problems for buildings.
“As the artist, or the owner of a work of art, you haven’t seen this before. It looks awful,” Coddington said. The craft of salvaging art from flood waters has been well-developed since the 1960s, when a devastating flood overwhelmed Florence, Italy and damaged priceless artwork. Subsequent storms in the United States, including Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, forced the art community to develop techniques for handling different materials, like freeze drying works on paper and vacuuming mold.
“Take a deep breath. You’re not alone in this,” said Lisa Elkin, a conservator of the natural sciences collections at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. As the storm Sandy hit New York on Monday night, Katie Heffelfinger, an exhibition manager who specializes in working with damaged art, was dismantling an exhibition in Pennsylvania that was due to move to California.
“I had a bunch of trash bags and my good humor to keep it together,” said Heffelfinger. “I got paintings damper than I have ever before, and that was really scary.”
She said she had come to the event at the Museum of Modern Art because “I like knowing that I’m not the only one who’s trying to dry out bamboo paper.”
During the question and answer session, Alex Schuchard, a painter whose studio at the South Street Seaport flooded, drenching thousands of works of art, stood up to ask if he should simply throw his canvasses in the trash.
The answer: don’t assume that any work is ruined, prioritize works in terms of value and seek guidance from experts.
On Tuesday — the day after the storm — Schuchard arrived at his studio to assess the damage.


West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

Updated 20 June 2018
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West End theater turns migrant camp to get London audience talking

  • The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle.”
  • The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.

LONDON: London theatergoers used to spectating in comfort are in for a rude awakening after the authors of a play swapped the traditional plush velvet seating for wooden benches and covered the floor with soil to simulate the feel of a migrant camp.
The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End aims to immerse the audience in the squalid camp in the northern French port city of Calais that inspired “The Jungle,” whose authors hope their play will stoke debate about migration.
“People often hold strong opinions about this subject because it doesn’t seem to have any immediate answer,” said Joe Murphy, 27, who co-wrote the play.
“Discussion is the only think that is going to get us forward ... and hopefully this play can provide some of that space for debate,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Co-author Joe Robertson said the pair had “tried to depict both the terrible conditions that existed in the Jungle camp, but also the hope that existed in that place.”
Up to 10,000 people seeking ways to reach Britain used to live in the giant slum before it was cleared by authorities in late 2016.
Immigration remains a major political issue across Europe, as well as in the United States, where the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the Mexican border has caused an international outcry.
Several European leaders including those of France, Germany, Italy and Austria are to hold talks on Sunday to explore how to stop people from moving around the European Union after claiming asylum in one of the Mediterranean states of arrival.
Murphy and Robertson, 28, based the script on their experience as volunteers in Calais, where they ran a temporary theater within the camp.
The immersive play offers a glimpse into life in the camp, telling the story of asylum-seekers, people smugglers and charity workers who used to populate it.
“There were 25 different nationalities of people all forced to live side by side often on top of each other and the phenomenal story about that place was people did make an effort to come together,” said Robertson.
Theatre-goers are invited to seat at the tables of the camp’s makeshift Afghan café, where the action unfolds.
“The closer you are to the audience the better the message is delivered,” said actor Ammar Hajj Ahmad, who plays one of the leading characters.
Ahmad, from Syria, is one of many actors from a refugee background featured in the play. Several asylum-seekers the authors met in Calais are also part of the cast.
“I am proud of this, I love telling stories ... about the many people who lived in Calais,” said cast-member Mohamed Sarrar, a musician from Sudan who arrived in Britain two years ago.
The play, which premiered at another London theater The Young Vic, last year, runs from July 5 to November.