When I spoke at the last IAM gathering on “Culture Care”, I referred to the coming paradigm shift for the galleries of Chelsea. I painted a rather gloomy picture. Never did I imagine then the catastrophic damage that all of the ground floor galleries in Chelsea district would receive due to Superstorm Sandy.
The gallery that represents my works, Dillon Gallery, was under 12ft of water at one point. The water gushed in with such a force that the surge bent one of the steel garters that held up the gallery. The staff, knowing that the storm was coming, prepared by lifting the paintings up on the first floor high above the floor, but the water pushed the supporting structure over, and all the paintings drowned in a mixture of the storm water and oil from a nearby oil heating unit.
I stayed up all night that evening of the storm, hearing bits and pieces on Twitter about the surges of water. One by one, in my mind, I said good-bye to my work stored at Dillon. I was thankful that my brand new works, for the Golden Sea exhibit, slated to open November 8th, was all in my new Princeton studio (my new series of very large paintings is ironically titled “Walking on Water”) so I could make sure they were safe from the drips that came in from the storm. One of the hardest works to say good bye to was the original pages from The Four Holy Gospels project.
They were the original illuminations from the project, framed and exhibited at various galleries and museums last summer. The loss would be very difficult to take, as these pieces would be impossible to reproduce.
But the next day, my assistant reminded me that the bulk of that collection traveled to Florida for an exhibit at a church. Sigh of relief. I thanked God for that church exhibit organized by curator Dan Siedell. But the rest of the illuminations, I assumed, were underwater.
When Valerie Dillon finally called to report the damage, I had never heard a voice so traumatized and distressed. I told her that I had said good bye to my works already, and that anything she could tell me, I would be ready for.
When you are a professional artist, meaning that you are making a living off your work, you do learn to say good bye to your work every day. That is what it means to be making a living. A friend recently told me that this is similar to a farmer not getting too attached to animals that will be slaughtered. Not a pleasant thought, but appropriate, somehow, as the art is feeding us, and my attachment cannot be too deep either.
But the attachment to your creation IS deep and abiding. No amount of rational persuasion will change the depth of my pain as I heard the list of works destroyed. Olana—Vision, Trinity screens, Gravity and Grace, Emily Dickinson’s Trinity, Interior Castles, etc, etc… The images went through my head, into my gut, and they were no longer allowed to be present. I told Val that I need not see the work. If they were destroyed, they are destroyed. And yet I am sure I will view the damaged pieces, given the opportunity, to fulfill the post mortem responsibility of an artist to his art works. Over twenty significant works of mine, and over fifty small works and prints were underwater, mixed with many other precious works by other artists, on the evening of October 29th in Chelsea.
But then Valerie told me something miraculous. “Mako, the Four Holy Gospels pages are fine…,” I was dumbfounded. “They survived.” Apparently Val put them on a corner shelf, because they were smaller and not for sale. That bookshelf was not touched by the surge of water. In fact they were by the window that broke with the surge, and they were so close to the window, they were preserved as the rush went right by them.
Mako Fujimura, November 2012