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Nuclear News
by Andrew Decker
  A radioactive Warhol? That was the buzz this summer in New York, thanks to a vivid but misleading article in the Daily News by Mitchell Fink. "Beneath Crozier warehouse there's radiation!" exclaimed one alarmed reader. "There was a Warhol painting taken from storage that was lit up like a Christmas tree. It's all irradiated -- the de Kooning estate, the Warhol Foundation, MoMA."

The original report was published on Sunday, July 18, as most people were tuned in to CNN for news of JFK Jr.'s tragic death. The Daily News claimed that Warhols stored at Crozier "might be nearly as radioactive as a Nevada test site."

Turns out that the Warhols, and other works in the exclusive, climate-controlled warehouse, aren't even as radioactive as the green stuff on a watch face. Still, it was a good story -- though the real one isn't bad either.

Crozier Fine Arts is the top art warehouse in the U.S., occupying three buildings on West 20th and 21st Streets in Manhattan's Chelsea. Back in the 1940s, those same buildings were an off-loading point for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Tons of uranium-rich dirt (similar to what was in the wine bottles in Hitchcock's Notorious) was shipped from the Belgian Congo to Manhattan before being moved to other locations in the U.S. for separation and enrichment, according to Ronald Kirk, a spokesman for the Department of Energy.

For much of this radioactive soil, the first stop was the buildings Crozier now occupies. In the early '90s, the DoE found residual radiation in an asphalt-like floor covering, which it removed. "We had uranium in those buildings that would not have affected anything stored in the buildings or the people working there. If the material had come loose, during a renovation," Kirk says, "there was a possibility that people would have ingested enough dust to be affected." Anything that would have tripped a Geiger Counter was removed in 1993.

Robert Crozier, the company's president, practically went nuclear himself following the Daily News story. "I got a call from a client after the story," he says. Crozier faxed out a DoE certificate that gave the facility a clean bill of health, and the client was mollified. "The building's got an interesting history," Crozier said dryly. Interesting enough to set the art gossip aglow, if not the art itself.

ANDREW DECKER writes on art and the art market.