New York

Raft of Romney, by Jonathan Gossmalerman

By Jonathan Grossmalerman

Hurricane Sandy satellite view.NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon with data courtesy of the NASA/NOAA GOES Project Science team.

I happen to live in a fashionable section of New York called Tribeca. It’s in flood evacuation zone A. So when Superstorm Sandy began rattling its sabres and conjuring its ugly winds, I decided to leave the city and its clamouring hordes of desperate, unprepared zombies and retire to my beach estate in Amagansett. That’s in the Hamptons. You may have heard of it. It’s nice. I like to escape there when things get intense. God’s own green acre. Unfortunately (and unbeknownst to me at the time) it also happens to be situated in flood evacuation zone A-plus. Neither my ten-year-old daughter nor any of my staff would join me, and to be fair I may not have asked outright, hoping my eyes would relay my intent. So much of my conversation is done with my eyes and sometimes I confuse what I’m saying with what I’m... you know... looking. Regardless, I’m sure I meant to ask them. Let’s just leave it at that.

I stocked the car with necessities: a case of vodka, two six-packs of Dr Pepper and a bag of excellent croissants I had picked up on impulse. Heading east, I had the Long Island Expressway to myself. Only the glare of oncoming traffic and the odd lone policeman waving his hands and imploring me to “for God’s sake, go inland!” to contend with. You see, by my logic a single house at the end of a long driveway would be totally ignored by Sandy as she concentrated on the more populated areas in order to maximise damage. This turned out to be incorrect. Apparently it’s wrong to assign motives to a superstorm. Upon arrival I couldn’t help but notice that the wind had really picked up and the tide was extremely robust. I had only just brought the croissants and Dr Pepper inside when a large tree, perhaps an ash or an elm, fell on an electric line, cutting all my power and, through a series of events that can only be called coincidental, causing my car to explode. With all the vodka in it. And it didn’t just explode, it exploded a lot. Horrified, I’d just run out to see if anything could be retrieved when a towering oak fell directly onto my Cape Cod-style house with cedar shingles, crushing it completely and leaving only my spacious painting studio. In a panic I took refuge there, my only company the official presidential portrait of Mitt Romney I had been commissioned to paint, never to be seen. (They hadn’t even called about it. It’s as though they didn’t care. What’s that about!?) I’ll be honest, as the studio groaned and black water swelled around me, I began to feel a bit sorry for myself. But then, as though pulled from the swirling brine... an idea!

When I came to, secured to the back of the overturned portrait by packing tape and clutching my favourite coffee mug, I was floating in the Hudson somewhere in the mid- 20s. The tide had somehow brought me in and I could see, on the distant Chelsea shore, gallerists and their assistants clutching damp multimedia works, taking insurance photographs and weeping. My voice was too hoarse to cry out, but perhaps I communicated with my eyes or maybe one of them just saw me (we are a visual people), and soon a human chain of artists, gallerists, curators and art consultants had made their way out to me and brought me ashore. The stabbing warmth of each “Don’t worry! We got ya!” and “You’re going to make it, buddy!” would play over and over again in the days ahead. I am a sentimental man by nature. I often think about how that painting saved me in a way that no installation, video or photograph ever could have. Well, perhaps a sculpture could have saved me provided it was made out of wood or was a sculpture depicting a boat made with the appropriate material. But a photograph? A video? An installation? I mean, maybe if there was a boat in the installation, but otherwise certainly not. Ultimately, it’s possible that that is why they aren’t really art. Along with all the other reasons. Anyway, it’s something I’ve been thinking about.