Phong Bui, artist, curator, writer, and publisher of the Brooklyn Rail, knows all too well about dealing with floods. As a child in Vietnam, Bui experienced deluges regularly and would sometimes have to decamp to higher ground to stay dry. Last October, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York, six feet of water consumed his ground-floor studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he had worked and stored his art and part of the Brooklyn Rail archives since 1992—destroying 25 years of production. “What’s sad about it is that I didn’t have a chance to document the work, so a good seven or eight years have no record,” Bui says.
So it was fitting that when Jack Flam, president of the Dedalus Foundation, wanted to mark Sandy’s first anniversary, he approached Bui to curate an exhibition that pays homage to the artists whose works, homes, and studios were damaged by the hurricane. “I felt it was important that the artwork can come together,” Bui says, “and to make this commemoration a festive activity, rather than somber and mournful.” He named the show “Come Together: Surviving Sandy.”
Opening October 20 and set across more than 100,000 square feet in Industry City, a former shipping terminal on the Brooklyn waterfront in Sunset Park, “Come Together” features dozens of artists and collectives. The majority of them—including the Bruce High Quality Foundation, Dustin Yellin, Diana Cooper, Lisa Yuskavage, and Michael Joo—were directly affected by Sandy. The rest—such as Alex Katz, Shirin Neshat, Superflex, and Chris Martin—Bui selected to participate in solidarity with the storm victims. “If it is about Sandy alone, it’s no longer a festive affair,” Bui says.
Some works will serve as reminders of the waters that ravaged the art world. Katz is contributing a few paintings of menacing waves, and Superflex will show Flooded McDonald’s, a 2008 film of a faux McDonald’s dining room engulfed in water. Joo will display several sculptures that were in progress when the floodwaters reached a height of four feet inside his studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Cooper, who lost about 16 years of work when her Canal Street storage space became submerged under six feet of water, plans to create a site-specific installation of red PVC pipes that wind around Industry City. She says the show will give artists and viewers a chance to “reflect on the fragile world we live in and the fragility of being a creative person.”
Perhaps what’s most representative of the New York art community overcoming Hurricane Sandy is the image Bui chose to promote the exhibition: Bruce High Quality Foundation’s 2004 photo Raft of the Medusa, which depicts, in the style of Théodore Géricault’s legendary 19th-century painting, a group of artists as forlorn-yet-persevering survivors navigating the East River. BHQF will also create an installation based on Medusa. “Every time you have a natural disaster like this, it brings people together,” Bui says, “and you think of your relationship to one another differently.”