Auckland Art Gallery staff will today open around 80 crates of art checking for water damage, after hauling them to higher ground when a huge basement storage space flooded.
Multi-million dollar repairs of the Gallery’s roof are scheduled to begin next month, but director Kirsten Lacy said water in the building’s lower levels - where about 3000 works from the permanent public collection are stored - was unprecedented.
The basement store, photography lab, workshop and object conservation lab were all affected by what Lacy described as “groundwater seepage” coming up through the walls and floor during Friday’s record deluge.
“There was about three-to-five centimetres of water throughout a very big area - maybe 500-700 square metres - in many different rooms.”
Onsite security staff sounded the alarm around 11pm on Friday.
“We did some minor work in terms of moving at-risk works on paper and paintings and then decided to regroup in the morning when we had confirmation that our electrical services and plant weren’t flooded. I was worried that we would end up working in the dark - and it was still very heavy rain.”
Daylight revealed remedial work on the gallery’s leaking roof had held, but 80 crates containing as many as 500 artworks in total had to be shifted away from wet floors and are now being stored temporarily in the Upper and Lower Grey galleries (currently empty, because of the pending roof repairs).
Today, staff will inspect them for damage.
“I can’t absolutely rule out damage to artworks. It was a very significant flooding event,” Lacy said. “But the way we store the collection means the only things sitting on the ground were the feet of crates with objects in them. Now, we want to open those crates up and make sure none are soaked through.”
There was ongoing concern about potentially damaging humidity levels.
“We’ve got rid of all the floodwater pretty much, but we’ve still got a lot of dampness. We’ve got three extra dehumidifiers running.”
Not all of the gallery’s 17,000-plus item art collection is held on the Wellesley St site and Lacy confirmed a new storage facility had remained watertight. And, while the entire collection is insured, “with art, you’re generally looking at one-off, irreplaceable works of significance . . . works that are lost, obviously are lost. I’m really pleased to say I don’t believe that’s the case - but the caveat being we haven’t opened up crates that were sitting in water.
“There may be some splash marks or things like that but largely we feel like we’ve rescued the collection from what otherwise could have been a much worse situation.”
About 30 staff worked on the weekend clean-up, which closed the gallery. Lacy says if there is no further flooding she expects to reopen on Monday with the final day of the current Robin White exhibition going ahead as planned.