By Brian Fee

I'm writing this from Austin, TX, land of abundant utilities, Internet, and hot and cold water. But the distance hasn't mellowed my heartbreak at the stories of Sandy's wrath. Images of storm-flooded galleries half an avenue from my former West Chelsea apartment, where I spent my last five years in New York, make it all seem very close to home.

I was in town less than a month before Sandy hit, zigzagging through the LES and Chelsea with a list of appointments to keep and exhibitions to see. Then before I knew it, I was following Twitpics of the rising Hudson from Art Fag City's Whitney Kimball. Practically the entire West Chelsea gallery bloc lies in the mandatory evacuation zone.

The New York Times' Roberta Smith echoed my anxieties in her Chelsea art-spaces survey, pre- and post-hurricane. In it, dealer Casey Kaplan said what I believe many gallery-owners are thinking: “we won't come back in the same way — we might be on one leg financially. But we will.” As in: return wiser, stronger, but irreversibly transformed.

Hyperallergic has been especially vigilant: I caught editor Hrag Vartanian's note that a concerned citizen was canvassing West Chelsea with printouts of the blog's “helpful information” article. And I'm heartened by the support for artist Rachel Beach, whose Greenpoint studio was flooded despite her precautions; check out this donation page and love Home Depot like you've never loved it before.

But maybe the most poignant expression of the damage in Chelsea came from ARTINFO's executive editor Ben Davis:

“The white nowhere-space of an art gallery is, of course, meant to create a placeless context for art, to remove it from everyday concerns. But smudged and debris-flaked walls make the space visible; you are reminded that these are physical venues, infrastructure that has to be maintained and defended.”

As often as I frequent these spaces to regard the artworks' boundary-crossing potency, I must not forget they are businesses whose product is as vulnerable as the walls where it hangs.

Had I been in town, I'd like to think I would have headed to Printed Matter, where ad hoc volunteer crews lugged drenched artists' editions from the basement. (Jerry Saltz, in an eyewitness Vulture post, called it "an art MASH unit.") I'm thankful my friends — art-world and otherwise — are recovering and helping each other out. As the painter Tim Okamura said, “unlike many of the trees in the city, New Yorkers bend but we don't break!”

It's this camaraderie that rebuilds neighborhoods, and it makes me <3 New York more than ever.

Image: Rachel Beach's studio via Hyperallergic