After a Recluse's Death, a Cleanup Man Reaps a Trove of Art
Darryl Kelly lives in the Bronx and has never spent a night outside New York City. Harry Shunk had photographs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and he worked with some of the great artists of the late 20th century. Mr. Kelly is a cleanup man. Mr. Shunk was a recluse and a compulsive hoarder.Posted by Jill Fallon at September 4, 2013 12:18 PM | Permalink
Their fates crossed in 2006 under the worst of circumstances: in Mr. Shunk’s West Village apartment, where his body had decomposed for about 10 days before it was found, upside down and trapped by stacks of his accumulated possessions, with only his ankles and his feet visible.
The cleanup specialist and the hoarder — yin and yang of New York’s real estate ecology. Now, the death of one may be a fresh start for the other.
At a storage locker in SoHo recently, Mr. Kelly, 56, displayed mementos from his 2006 trip to Mr. Shunk’s apartment: sketches and three-dimensional maquettes by Christo; large-format photographs of the artist Yves Klein directing naked women dabbed in paint; lithographs by Andy Warhol and Paul Jenkins; a menu handwritten by Larry Rivers; museum posters; gallery fliers; magazine clippings; a packet of gold leaf belonging to Mr. Klein.
“There was a stink coming out of there that was out of this world,” recalled Mr. Kelly, who was called in by the management of Westbeth, the apartment building for artists where Mr. Shunk had lived since 1970, after the body had been removed.
“Oh my God,” he recalled, items were “piled to within a foot of the ceiling. I had to send a skinny man in there to climb up over it to the window.”
At the storage locker, he unrolled a Warhol lithograph of Marilyn Monroe, in hot fuchsia. Mr. Kelly’s brother-in-law, Gregory Marsh, the skinny man who helped clean out the apartment, made kissing noises at the image. Mr. Kelly beamed at his good fortune.
“I feel like I’m alive,” Mr. Kelly said, looking over the works. “I been down and out for so long, I feel like I’m alive now. This one they can’t take away from me.”