‘Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year One’, curated by Phong Bui, had at its core the democratic premise that artists affected by the hurricane would exhibit their work. Then, like one of the several Loren Munk diagrams exhibited in the show, tendrils would sprout from these artists, connecting to spouses, partners and family, and finally a third growth of friends, studio assistants and supporters. Bui exerted a great deal of care in transforming an unruly mob of more than 300 artists into a comprehensive slice of activity in early 21st-century New York.
Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge hit the city on 29 October 2012, costing 43 lives and inflicting tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage. In an unfortunate confluence of events, the unexpectedly high flood waters hit Tribeca, Chelsea, Greenpoint, Red Hook and Long Island City in what seemed a targeted attack on the visual arts community. The destruction of studios and art works stored in gallery and studio basements recalled the iconic photo of a beleaguered statue of Dante gazing down on a mud-covered Florence after the 1966 flood. Though few of the works in ‘Come Together’ specifically addressed Sandy, Francis Cape’s ‘Waterline’ (2006), a series of photographs taken in New Orleans two months after Katrina, with a chair rail set at the height of the flood waters, and Michael Joo’s Parasite (Landscape) (2011–13), which sets rock salt at the same level, were suitable surrogates.
The exhibition’s organization, a contorted web of networks and relationships, became an anthropological assessment of the inner workings of an art scene, offering an intriguing glimpse into the lives and practices of New York artists. Couples abounded: a room of luminous forest idylls by Ellen Phelan peered out of a window onto a large Joel Shapiro cantilevered bronze piece Untitled (2002–07). In the sixth-floor gallery, Shoja Azari’s The King of Black, a fairytale video combining Persian miniatures and live action screened as Shirin Neshat’s painterly funereal video Passage (2001), featuring a Philip Glass soundtrack, played on the third floor. A languid Sheila Pepe tapestry, Corner Piece Redux #2 (2012), shared a room with Carrie Moyer’s Carnivalesque (2012). Will, Cordy and Ethan Ryman, sons of Robert, evinced a fraternal penchant for heavily textured and sculptural canvases and wall-based installations.
The architecture of Industry City, a massive early 20th-century manufacturing complex, lent the show a Dia:Beacon sensibility, albeit set up in the space of two months and lasting only another two. The ground floor opened with an equivocal installation by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, positing a pizza pie sprinkled with a topping of New York skyscrapers. Pizzatopia was placed between two inflatable rats commonly used by unions to protest unfair building practices (Stay With Me Baby, both 2011). The central gallery offered a grand vista of monumental canvases by Ronnie Landfield, Alex Katz and Joanna Pousette-Dart. At the centre of the room sat Dustin Yellin’s imposing three-part glass diorama, Triptych (2013), which at one point during the storm’s onslaught sat submerged in the artist’s Red Hook studio. The aquatic nature of Yellin’s piece, Landfield’s The Deluge (1998) and Katz’s Marine 11 (2000) emphasized the exhibition’s watery premise, a sentiment echoed in Alexis Rockman’s two oceanic oil paintings, Hudson Estuary and Food Web (both 2011) and Superflex’s entrancing video Flooded McDonalds (2009).
Elsewhere, the third-floor gallery was united by a suite of 13 backdrops created for the musical performance Vivere (Live, 2013) organized by Bosco Sodi in the wake of Sandy. In front of these sets was a parade of sculptures – a gritty cement mixer with a bright orange banner by Donald Moffett (Lot 080711 [the Radiant Future], 2011), Ursula von Rydingsvard’s Ocean Voices (2011– 12) and a witty conclave of Rube Goldberg-type assemblages sprouting from pails of concrete by Cy Morgan. An extensive series of installations by Diana Cooper played against the 1980s Atari videogame-inspired environment by G.T. Pellizzi, while a sparkling Stanley Whitney painting and a delicate Robert Storr abstraction, Suzy Fishing (2002–12), conversed nearby. New York icons Lynda Benglis and Jonas Mekas had their own rooms, as did the tragic Emma Bee Bernstein. Within two smaller salon-style spaces, the work of emerging artists such as painters Nathlie Provosty, Greg Lindquist and Noah Landfield was complemented by veterans such as Holly Zausner and Louise Belcourt. With a flood as its starting point and a cast of hundreds, ‘Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year One’ felt calm in the eye of the storm that is the chaos of New York’s still-recovering art scene.