How do you safeguard a self portrait made of frozen blood? Protect a canvas covered in bubblegum? Buy a six-figure work online? Today’s art collectors face challenges the previous generation probably never dreamed of.
Contemporary and emerging art often feature new media and present new risks. Here are some special challenges the next generation of collectors may face when adding to a collection:
Displaying and preserving contemporary art. If your artwork is created with unique media, your display and preservation issues will be unique, too. New media may be unstable and require different care. For instance, Dan Colen’s bubblegum works age with time, and dust or debris can stick to the surface if they are displayed in a warm or humid environment. Artwork that is considered fragile or “unstable” should be handled as infrequently as possible, and regular condition checks should be completed to monitor changes over time. Since each piece of art has its own installation and preservation challenges, engaging an art conservator and handler will be well worth it.
Safeguarding conceptual art.
Conceptual works typically come with a certificate that provides instructions for installation. In some cases the artist, studio assistants, or the artwork’s owner will then create the work based on the instructions. When you buy conceptual art, the piece’s value is often tied more to its certificate and instructions rather than the work itself. If your certificate is lost or damaged, the piece’s value may be lost, even if the art itself remains intact. Your first line of defense: Safeguard the certificate to maintain your piece’s value. If you do lose or damage the certificate, contact the artist or foundation; some will re‑issue the certificate for you.
Buying art online. Curated Artsy tours, online auctions at Paddle8, and Instagram accounts make it easier to preview fairs, learn about artists, and follow your favorites. But online art markets can also make it harder to see and control a purchased piece’s condition, ownership history, and shipping. Reputable online art dealers are willing to provide you with detailed information on a piece’s condition, provenance, and packaging and shipping plans. Work with experienced art handlers who know your medium and market to help minimize the risks.
Collecting for investment. If you are collecting with an eye on investment, you may be lending your pieces to museums to increase exposure or carefully storing them to maintain pristine condition. Regardless of your strategy, choose transit and storage companies with good credentials and referrals. If pieces are shipped by passenger air, have works packed by TSA-certified handling companies to ensure your work is not screened by unqualified individuals at the airport. When storing art, work with a warehouse that has formal security and disaster management plans. Warehouses and transportation agencies should be well established and experienced to help ensure your art is not damaged. Additionally, when buying or selling artwork, make sure the agreement clearly spells out when the title changes hands and who is responsible for shipping and handling.
Collecting art can be as risky as it is enjoyable. But a solid understanding of the risks and how to minimize them goes a long way toward preserving your collection for generations to come.
Laura Doyle is North American Fine Art and Collections Specialist, Chubb Personal Risk Services.