SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — It was the distinct charms of the block — cobblestones, historic architecture — that immediately endeared Greek art dealer Konstantinos Manolakis to Water Street as he searched for the right place to open his first New York gallery a year ago.
“It was lovely,” Manolakis said, as loud, idling Con Edison trucks sat along the narrow South Street Seaport road Wednesday afternoon. “It had, and it has, so much potential. I knew I wanted to be here.”
But Manolakis certainly didn’t anticipate that powerful floods would rip through his gallery’s new home just a few days after opening in late October, turning his quaint neighborhood into a disaster zone overnight.
The Athens native and his gallery manager, Evi Rozis, had cleared out as much artwork as they could before the storm, and fortuitously stored other pieces just high enough to miss much of Sandy’s deluge.
While the gallery was not left completely unscathed by the floodwaters, Manolakis was determined to open, as the gallery's first major solo exhibit had been set for December 6. With that goal in mind, he along with Rozis, workers and other helping hands from the neighborhood spent the weeks after Sandy scrubbing, refurbishing and sanitizing their cozy space.
While much of the rest of the block remains shuttered — some buildings slapped with “Restricted Use” signs — Artion managed to meet its deadline, and even had a packed opening night party.
Manolakis and Rozis say they were thrilled — and relived — that they were able to pull it off, but perhaps most excited was the artist herself, Carmen Molina.
The Columbian photographer had inspired Manolakis to set up shop on the easternmost edge of Water Street, between Peck Slip and the Brooklyn Bridge — a decision Manolakis said he does not regret.
Molina used to live right across the street, where she created most of the pieces now hanging in the gallery. They include photos that are multi-layered images, blurring to create a hazy, dream-like effect. Many of her ethereal works, some of which are self-portraits, appear more like paintings than photos.
It’s also the 37-year-old’s first solo exhibition, with the eerily prescient title “Undercurrents.”
Molina's art, she explained, came out of period of great turmoil, after she divorced her husband, moved to the Seaport and decided to fully pursue her photography.
“It was a very difficult time, and I had to create a new path for myself,” she said. “I think this is where these pictures belong — in this gallery — in this neighborhood with so many challenges now.
“But it will make it through, it will be stronger,” she added.
Manolakis, who also owns a gallery in Thessaloniki, Greece, with his family and manages their international exhibitions and sales, also remains optimistic. Thankfully, he said, there’s been foot traffic in the gallery over the past week, mostly through word-of-mouth and acquaintances of Molina. But her photos, priced between $950 to $8,500, are not for the average Seaport tourist or passerby.
Some of the nearby shops and restaurants, including the upscale Mark Joseph Steakhouse that sits at the end of the block, recently reopened, making the area, which is still largely shuttered, a bit more alive.
But there’s also a massive construction project — an infrastructure upgrade, and park installation — that’s now continuing a few feet from Artion.
Residents say they fear the revitalization project, originally slated to take four years, will now be slowed down by the effects of Sandy.
Manolakis and Rozis, are, for now, looking ahead to the next show, planned for the Spring, though they wouldn't say which artist will be featured.
"We love this block, we'll make it work," said Rozis, a longtime family friend of Manolakis.
"Everybody is determined to come back."