More than 2.5 million coastal Florida residents have been advised to evacuate due to the threat posed by Hurricane Ian, the storm that has already left 1 million people in Cuba without power and which hit the southwest flank of the Sunshine state early Wednesday afternoon.
In anticipation of Category 4 winds of 130 miles per hour, residents scrambled to pile up sandbags and stock up on supplies. For a certain group of Florida residents, also about – and in some cases needing evacuation – are their art collections, which can be valued in the many millions and potentially vulnerable to damage due to the hurricane’s destructive path.
Generally speaking, Florida’s super-rich and the galleries that cater to them are ready for hurricane season (June through November) and know to stockpile their prized works long before a threat like Ian arises, but in some cases last minute intervention is required.
“We brought in some art, especially flat works [paintings], Susan McGregor, founder and CEO of Bellissima Luxury & Fine Arts Services in Fort Lauderdale, told The Daily Beast Wednesday. McGregor says her company has also been retained by a major arts insurer to be part of the post-hurricane recovery response. Once it’s safe to access hurricane-damaged homes, Bellissima takes the art to stocking or to a maintenance worker on a case-by-case basis.
As Ian approached, Bellissima received calls from other insurers trying to pool resources — art workers, trucks — to collect artwork from Florida’s west coast for their insured customers, McGregor said.
“The problem with that is you have to let the water recede, but then the priority will be for energy companies, first responders, food, water, that kind of thing,” MacGregor said. “So access to companies like mine, just to get in to collect art will be delayed, which will create a problem for art.”
“It reinforces the importance of pre-storm plans, because after the storm, the conditions became very detrimental to the artwork,” McGregor said. “Humidity, you don’t have air conditioning, you have water damage—it’s just too bad for the art.”
“We have a collection, and we have basically removed the installation as much as we could and put it in our bathrooms and our windowless rooms. We have big windows all around our house,” Belair collector Liz Demet and her husband, a specialist art dealer at Old Masters, told The Daily Beast. Belleair, just west of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, is located directly on Ian Road.
“Things that are too big to disassemble, we wrapped them in plastic,” Demet said, adding that the US Technical Shipping Service is currently picking up items from collectors to store at their Orlando facility. (U.S. technical evacuation personnel were not available for comment.)
“With Hurricane Ian, there were more preparations. I think people took it very seriously this year.“
– Susan McGregor
“Art is generally stored with Bellissima throughout the entire hurricane season,” McGregor said. “We bring the art indoors while the family is out of the residence for the summer season.” The cost of Bellissima’s pick-up, storage, and reinstallation services depends on the size of the art collection, but generally, Customers can expect to pay “several thousand dollars,” McGregor said.
“We won’t have time to build the crates,” McGregor told The Daily Beast. “After the customer tells us what kind of art we need to pick up, we bring the appropriate materials to package the artwork for safe transportation in our trucks. Our trucks are also climate controlled. Then we get [the art] in storage”.
“It’s very different this year,” MacGregor added. “With Irma, the last hurricane, people were wrapping these very expensive pieces in whatever they could find, and bringing them in for storage. With Ian, there was more preparation. I think people took it very seriously this year.”
On Instagram, collector and real estate developer in Miami, John Marques Post Instagram Stories It’s a poolside art being hurricane-resistant while indulging in a big cigar. Marquez did not respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“Anything outside that isn’t really installed, we can’t stand it even after hurricane season.“
– Beth Rodin Dewdy
“Anything outside that isn’t really installed, we don’t take it even after hurricane season,” Beth Rodin DewdyLongtime curator, art collector and mainstay in West Palm Beach, he told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “A lot of my artwork is in a very secure warehouse, it’s a cement building, so I’m not worried about that.”
In some cases, strict action is required, Thomas Burns, COO of castle storagehe told the Daily Beast.
“Customers register with us at the start of hurricane season, and are given a priority number on a first-come, first-served basis when they sign up for the evacuation program,” Burns told The Daily Beast. “We’ll come home and make a plan: What pieces do we need to move in? Maybe the chests need to be built for them. Sometimes we’ll build a chest if the artwork can only be moved using a wooden chest. We’ll either store the chests in the Fortress or at the property” .
Burns said that when the artworks are vacated depends on the “customer’s location and proximity to the Fortress.” “If they’re on barrier islands, we have to take the art early because the bridges can close. Then we determine whether we evacuate the art based on a tropical storm watch, tropical storm warning, hurricane watch, or hurricane warning.”
“I strap things outside so they can’t fly and I’ve gone up to some areas to create safe rooms.“
– Ezra Johnson
“I still get everything safe and organize until I’m ready for Ian,” Ezra Johnson, associate professor of painting and drawing at the University of South Florida, told The Daily Beast Wednesday. “Luckily we got some help. Another lucky thing is that my studio is pretty empty due to the recent exhibitions so what I have there I’m going to hang high on the wall. I’m a little worried about the flooding, but besides the sandbags in the entrances, there isn’t much to One can do. That’s pretty much it—I’m tying things outside so they can’t fly and I’ve gone up to some areas to create safe rooms.”
“Currently, Pace Palm Beach is monitoring storm conditions,” Alison Ruddock, Pace’s Palm Beach site manager, told The Daily Beast. “Because this is a mostly seasonal community, collectors are now slowly starting to come back, and most have been prepared for hurricane weather since they left last April.”
“We’re asking people to take a lot of photos of your home and document what you have if you’re leaving,” Pinellas County Senior Public Relations Coordinator Tony Fabrizio told The Daily Beast. “If art or jewelry is really valuable, it’s a good idea to have other documents and take them with you.”
On Wednesday, Tampa-based artist Walter Matthews was working to protect the retirement home where he works full time. “My past few days have focused on people and my cat, not art,” he told The Daily Beast.