Every art collection faces a range of physical exposures, and natural disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes, and bushfires are all potential risks. However, most art losses are due to transit, water, fire, theft, inadequate storage, improper installation, accidents and lack of environmental controls.
To minimise the likelihood of damage, the insured can help protect their art by utilising some of these preventative measures:
• Light damage is a common occurrence and shielding a collection from direct sunlight or other intense lighting sources is essential. Installing UV-filters on windows, or simply closing the curtains to reduce light levels, can limit the damage caused by direct sunlight.
• To limit deterioration from environmental conditions, maintain a steady temperature and humidity in rooms containing artwork. A constant relative humidity (RH) of 45-55% and a climate of around 22 degrees is recommended for most collections. However, it is important to note that certain materials require specific recommendations, e.g. pastels. While the insured can use a dehumidifier to adjust humidity levels, it is best to consult a conservator to determine an acceptable range.
• Never store items on the floor and avoid placing artwork in high-traffic areas.
• Ensuring that artwork is correctly framed is also worthwhile. Framing helps to protect artwork from environmental conditions and also minimises the risk of damage from mishandling.
• Avoid hanging unprotected artwork above fireplaces or beneath air ducts, and engage a professional art handler to install artwork.
• Mount smoke detectors in every room that contains artwork. For high-value collections, consider installing moisture alert sensors in areas that may be potential sources of flooding.
• To avoid accidental toppling, consult a conservator if it would be appropriate to use museum wax or a similar product to secure objects to pedestals or shelving.
• Use archival quality materials to wrap artwork, and consult an art handler or conservator about which materials are best suited for the collection.
Since an object's condition affects its monetary, cultural and aesthetic value, it is worth consulting with a conservator regularly, but first, ensure that they are registered with the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials. By taking some simple steps now, the insured can help preserve the integrity of their artwork.
In addition to the preventative measures summarised above, an accurate inventory management system also helps maintain an art collection. Inventory records reduce the likelihood of a mysterious disappearance, eliminate misappropriation and lost provenance, and expedite the claims process in the event of a loss.
Some essential inventory management tips include:
• Saving receipts and invoices and storing information about the collection in a secure off-site location.
• Maintaining a digital inventory with descriptions and images of each item, and organising data by date of last appraisal, location, genre and other relevant information.
• Request periodic updates on an appraisal when there is a significant change in the market. A good rule of thumb is every three to five years.
• If assistance is required with establishing a digital inventory system, consult an art professional with experience in collection management.
Ben Ashley is the director at Ashley & Associates, an art appraisal and consultancy firm based in Tamaki Makaurau Auckland.
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