Artist Dustin Yellin Sloshes Through New Red Hook Studio

Dustin Yellin
Dustin Yellin outside of his Red Hook studio and art space, The Intercourse, in Brooklyn. The ground floor of the building was flooded by Hurricane Sandy. Photographer: James Tarmy/Bloomberg

The only works in Dustin Yellin’s Red Hook studio that survived Hurricane Sandy were massive glass blocks bound for an exhibition at Lever House on Park Avenue this spring, and they had a scum line four feet up from the ground.

“To be here when it was flooded, I would have had to swim,” said Yellin, looking tired and distraught as he surveyed the damage to his new art space, a three story brick building dating to the Civil War era. He bought the warehouse earlier this year for $3.7 million.

Scrappy Red Hook, in the borough of Brooklyn, has been infiltrated over the last few years by artists, hipsters and junior titans of finance.

Yellin, 37, had recently completed a total renovation. “All of the walls were just built,” he said, stepping over debris, broken tools, and smashed artworks. “Now all of it has to be ripped out.”

Much of his artwork is irrevocably damaged. “It’s irreproducible stuff,” said Yellin. “A ton of my early work. It’s so much.”

His outdoor space, once a manicured garden, now looked a lot like the surrounding industrial lots. Planters, chairs, and debris obscured newly planted saplings. An elaborate wooden gate, the entrance to the garden, was chained shut.

His insurance adjuster was on a plane, awaited by his helpers who were cataloging the damaged works. “We’re very lucky,” he said. “So many people didn’t have insurance.”

All Trash

Store owners across Red Hook were also taking stock.

Barry Omeara, the owner of Red Hook Bait & Tackle Shop, a neighborhood bar, stood by a pile of soaked furniture and garbage bags. “It’s all trash,” he said, gesturing to what he’d taken out of his basement. Omeara estimates the damage at around $80,000 to $100,000.

“And the water’s going to keep rising for the next four or five days,” he said. “We’re on a landfill.”

Asked when he thought he could begin to make money again, Omeara laughed. “This is Red Hook. I never made money.”

The cacophony of generators pumping water from basements was deafening. Piles of trash and soaked household objects lined the curbs. Downed trees and branches littered the sidewalks.

Inside Fort Defiance, a cafe and bar on Van Brunt Street, employee Mike Dresser was organizing alcohol he’d salvaged from the basement.

“The best comment of the day was from our wine buyer,” said Dresser, pondering mud-caked bottles of red wine. “He told me that today is the perfect cellar temperature.”

Van Brunt, Red Hook’s main commercial thoroughfare, was full of volunteers. Representatives from the Red Hook Initiative, a community support group, offered free food, guidance and manpower to those who needed it.

Not everyone in the neighborhood was thrilled with the influx of visitors. In the parking lot outside of Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, a man in a black SUV pulled up beside a reporter carrying a camera. “Get the...out of here!” he yelled. “Red Hook is for real people.”

(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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