Most Fine Art Insurance professionals will agree that the best way to ensure that an insured loss is settled quickly and fairly is by properly documenting your art collection. Being able to easily provide your insurance carrier with images, acquisition paperwork, and provenance information is only one of many reasons to keep detailed collection records. For instance, your bill of sale will not just prove ownership, if the artwork is sold, combined with a canceled check or a credit card receipt it can prove to the IRS what you originally paid. But for this post, rather than expound on which records are important to keep and why, I have focused on the reasons to digitize all of them, suggested ways to implement the digitization process, and recommend strategies to mitigate the possibility of data loss through thoughtful backups.
To be sure that any appreciation is covered, most collectors opt to have a blanket, as opposed to a scheduled policy protecting their art. Let’s say you have a collection of 100 artworks you believe to be worth $1,000,000, and you decide to take out a blanket policy for $500,000, opting to self-insure any loss beyond that amount. If you have a covered loss of an artwork, you will need to provide the adjustor with documentation proving ownership and its value when the incident took place. And, if theft was involved, you will probably be asked to provide a police report.
Proving you possessed an artwork can be as easy as having a photograph of it on the wall of your home and a related bill of sale. If you carry a blanket policy and have a covered loss, it is likely that your insurance agent will have no information about the work in question beforehand. Proof of the works existence, ownership, and that the loss actually occurred is on you. The determination of value will most likely have to be through a professional appraisal after the loss using the documentation you provide, so it needs to be thorough and convincing.
Also, you may have excellent files documenting each artwork you own, but if it is all kept in the same location, everything could be lost in the same event. In my insurance post, I recounted a story my homeowners agent told me about the damage inflicted by an F5 tornado she was adjusting in southern Oklahoma City. She said that she literally cried with those who had lost their homes because many had no proof they had any contents. All of their possessions had been blended with their neighbor’s, and scattered over many blocks along with the photographs, files, and receipts that would have proven ownership. This type of total loss is one of the reasons most insurance companies recommend that digital records be kept of all your tangible property with copies kept in multiple locations, including “the cloud”.
Available Cloud-Based Collections Programs:
There are many cloud-based programs that will catalogue collection images and data. Many are often downsized gallery or museum programs. Because they are intended to service the needs of all clients, they are often more powerful and offer more options than most collectors need. And because they are designed around a database structure, they provide the user with little ability to customize fields and edit reports. However, most all of these programs will allow a user to create a well-formatted document to aid in obtaining or updating a fine arts policy.
Although most of these programs work well, there are several things one should consider before committing to a dedicated collection inventory system. Since the newer systems are web based and keep your data in the cloud, they require a monthly subscription to use. Data entry is time consuming as you will be filling in many preformatted fields, uploading images, and if the program permits, scanned documents. This rigid data entry system does not provide for much customization so be sure any system you sign onto provides everything you want. Ask for a trial subscription with all fields filled with test data. This will allow you to test the functionality of a program and its ease of use, especially if you plan to enter data yourself.
Although most of the web-based collection programs regularly backup their servers, many do not provide a user with an accessible backup of their own data. Most will generate a printable report that contains all entered data in a one-artwork-per-page format.
Be sure any program you review allows you to export a comma delimited file (CSV) of all your entered text data, and if allowed, run this export with the test data. Review the exported file in a spreadsheet program to confirm their program provides a clean export. Creating backups like this of user entered data protects it from loss if the software company that supports the product goes out of business or the company hosting your data has a ransomware attack. This type of file can be used to import your data back into the original program to recover, into a different program, or instead, if you do not need nicely formatted reports, just continue using the spreadsheet alone. If any program you are considering does not provide this type of export, I suggest reviewing other options.
Most collectors I know love to share images of prized works with friends. The collection programs I am aware of do not make this process easy. It is best to keep these images in a collection folder on your phone. This way, finding the artwork you want to share will take seconds rather than minutes.
If you have only a few works and are planning to continuously add to your collection, starting with a cloud-based system may make sense. However, if you have years worth of analogue collection files and do not have the time or inclination to enter data yourself, or do not want to hire someone to do it for you, then it is probably better to consider a different solution.
Digitizing An Analog Based Collection System:
My wife and I have acquired art for over 40 years. To document our collection when we began, we developed an analog system using file folders to hold information on each artwork. Each folder contains an image, related bill of sale, articles on the artist or the work itself, conservation reports, appraisals, museum loan forms, etc. While I was writing a post on insuring fine art, it became apparent that I needed to start digitizing our records to ensure that this information was properly backed up. So, I set out to determine the best solution to do this for our situation.
I opted to skip the process of keying in all our collection information into a web-based program. Because all the pertinent information about each artwork we own is contained in analog documents, I concluded that scanning everything would be the best way of digitizing the information. It also beats transcribing the information into a database program, field by field. So, knowing I was going to scan all the documents, my next step was to determine what program to use to keep the scans for each artwork separate and easily accessible.
My Inexpensive Solution:
Since I had chosen not to use a subscription program, I looked at the programs already available on my computer to see if I could find one that would serve my purpose. I quickly determined that MSWord would be ideal as it allowed me to create a named document for each artwork and then place my scanned pages within. I titled each document with:
The name of the Artist, (Last name first so files appear alphabetical by artist.)
A self-generated inventory number,
The name of the work,
And if the work was a print, drawing, painting, sculpture, or photograph.
Naming each file this way allowed me to use the search function in File Explorer to quickly find any file/s I might want to see.
MSWord allows a user to drag and drop images, JPEG scans, PDF’s, and other file formats into each document, in any order. And adding notes is obviously not a problem. In each Word document, I decided to place my scans in the following order:
An image of the artwork
A scan of the original bill of sale
Scans of any articles, catalogues, appraisals, or other documents contained in our original analog file.
I realized that in addition to the basic information regarding our collection, an insurance company would need to know the value of each work and the overall value of the collection. MSXL seemed to be the right choice to handle this issue. So, I created a collection spread sheet with columns titled:
Artist (last name first)
Insured (I would “x” the works I thought needed to be insured if I decided to schedule the collection.)
Value – This value could be the purchase, properly appraised, or projected price of each artwork to determine approximate collection value.
Note – I put from whom the work was purchased here.
Need photo – I would place an “x” here for works that need a photo in its Word file.
An XL document like this allows an insurance company to quickly see the extent and approximate value of our collection. I have added more information above than is necessary to track the value of each artwork, but this version fits my needs. The advantage of XL is that it is easy to add, move, or remove columns to incorporate any information considered useful. However, all that’s really necessary to enter about an artwork here is the name of the artist, a self-generated inventory number, the artwork’s title, value, and maybe its location.
Although the system I developed does not create elegant reports, it does allow us to keep all our collection records in an easily accessible and updatable digital format that is endlessly customizable. It is using programs that are found on almost all computers, the data is completely private, it can be backed up by copying and pasting, there is no monthly charge, and the approximate value of our collection is automatically updated with the addition of each new work on the spreadsheet.
Having recovered from two catastrophic data losses over the last 15 years, I highly recommend that no matter what collection documentation system you choose, be sure your choice allows you to back up your data, preferably in a comma delimited format. Perform a backup each session of entering new data and do not delete old ones. This way, you can be confident that if your data is lost, or corrupted and then backed up, you have earlier versions to fall back on. Also, don’t just keep your backups on the computer in the room with your analogue collection information. Transfer a copy to a thumb drive you keep off premises and one on the cloud if you have a virtual drive.
I have referenced a post I created earlier titled, Fine Art Insurance 101 several times here. It was thoroughly researched and answers most questions anyone would have on how fine art insurance works. A pendant post titled, How Do I Get My Art Appraised? offers ways you can determine an artwork’s approximate value yourself. It includes an interview with an ex-president of the International Society of Appraisers who describes the entire appraisal process, including what you should expect to pay for a professional appraisal.
While I was documenting our collection, I was reminded of the old quiz question, “How many doors do you have in your house?”. Your guess will inevitably be off by about half. I had no idea how much art we had acquired nor its approximate value, but I know now.
In gathering information to write this post, I was shocked to discover that anyone can legally present themselves as a personal property appraiser. There is no governmental license, proof of knowledge, or certification required to appraise personal property. Fortunately, there are several property appraisal organizations that set standards and self-police their membership to be sure that each member is qualified to properly appraise their field of expertise. If your insurance provider has asked you to get your artwork professionally appraised, or you need it evaluated for some other reason, How Do I Get My Art Appraised will help you find a qualified appraiser, fully understand all aspects of the appraisal process, and prepare you for what a professional fine art appraisal is likely to cost.
To this end I have divided this post into three main parts:
Keeping Gifts to Museums Tax Deductible: is a brief history of how the Art Dealers Association of America helped to clean up the appraisal business.
Before You Call a Professional Appraiser: provides suggestions on how to inexpensively determine what your artwork might be worth before calling a professional appraiser. It also provides short reviews of 4 of the most often used auction databases and the least expensive way to independently access them.
An Interview with a Professional: is an in-depth interview with Christine Guernsey, a past president of the ISA (International Society of Appraisers). Because Christine answered each of my questions in great detail, I grouped her answers into five sections. The first four sections cover general topics and the fifth involves questions about how an appraiser works, and how they would handle different appraisal scenarios. Following are the five sections:
The Written Appraisal (What to Expect)
What Does a Professional Appraisal Cost?
General Questions about Appraisals and Appraisers
Keeping Gifts to Museums Tax Deductible
In 1962, the IRS was about to remove the income tax deductibility of artworks that were donated to museums because of inappropriate appraisal overvaluation. The long-term ramifications to museums’ ability to build their collections through gifting was obvious, without this incentive, few collectors would opt to donate or bequeath their collections.
An attorney/collector named Ralph F. Colin and a group of New York City’s leading art dealers who had just formed the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) engaged the IRS to help find ways to address this appraisal issue. They proposed to the IRS that this new organization, made up of many the most knowledgeable and respected art dealers around the country, could help to establish consistent standards for evaluating the fair market value of artworks. The IRS came to view the ADAA’s appraisals as reliable, and as a result, the art collectors’ ability to financially benefit from their donations was preserved.
Today, with over 180 members, the ADAA has expanded its appraisal services from donation to also include estate tax, gift tax, and insurance. The organizations high standards of membership, commitment to scholarship, and the ADAA Foundation grant program benefitting art organizations and museums make it the most respected dealer organization in the country.
Before You Call a Professional Appraiser
How do I determine if my art is worth appraising?
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on the phone trying to help people determine if the painting they found in a garage sale is worth anything. In March of 1987, after Van Gogh’s Sunflowers sold for just under $40,000,000 at Christie’s, more than triple the amount of any work that had ever sold at auction, I received no less than 5 phone calls from people who had found another copy of the painting in a closet, under a floorboard, etc. I took no pleasure in having to explain that they had one of the many reproductions of the painting and their hopes of having won the art lottery was only a lovely dream. If I had five people call me, I wonder how many other dealers and appraisers received calls from other expectant lottery winners?
Christine Guernsey, a professional appraiser whose interview appears in Part 3 of this article, indicated that a professional written appraisal of a single artwork would at a minimum cost $450 and would more realistically cost between $600 and $800. This means that when your insurance agent suggests that you have the $4,000 painting you have listed on your personal inland marine policy appraised, to see if the value has gone up, they have not done you a favor. That is, unless you happen to know that a similar work by that artist has just sold for $25,000 at auction. The problem is, of course, how will you know that happened unless you have it appraised?
There are inexpensive ways that can help you determine if an appraisal of your artwork is warranted:
If you purchased the artwork from a local gallery, they will probably be happy to let you know if its value has gone up significantly. And if the artwork has, they may even be willing to write you an updated insurance evaluation for free. However, do not expect them to appraise any works you had not purchased from them.
If the original source of the artwork is not available to help you, Google is your next best bet. If you are unable to find the artist by searching their name, followed by the word “artist”, or other such identifier, in the “All” category, go to “images” and see if you find an artwork that looks like it might have been painted by the same artist. If you find a gallery in the results that currently represents the artist, they will probably not be willing to appraise the work, but they may be willing to let you know the price they are asking for a current work by the artist of a similar size and type. This will not provide you a written appraisal but will let you know if an update appraisal might be warranted.
If you did not acquire the artwork through a gallery and cannot find similar works online, you may need to take the work, or send photo’s, to an auction house and tell them you are interested in selling the work. If they show interest and provide you with an estimate, you will have an idea of what they believe the value to be and if their estimate is high enough, you may want to turn the work over to them to sell. If they say it would be better if you find another avenue to sell your work, it is probably not worth appraising. Auction houses sometimes have free evaluation days, so if you have one in your area, it is worth a call to find out if they have one scheduled.
If you know the artist’s name, you can use one of the auction databases (listed below) that appraisers and dealers subscribe to. These websites compile results from many auction houses and show not only the results of past sales, but also estimates of works that will appear in future sales. Many of these sites have been collecting data since the late 1980’s. (You can also use most auction houses’ website search fields to see if works by your artist appear, but it will require a lot of searching.) If your artwork came from a contemporary art gallery selling work by local artists, don’t expect to find it in an auction database. Although, if it is a secondary market work, you may find other works by the artist that have sold at auction, and there is a slim chance that you may find that your work has gone through auction before you acquired it. If it is a fine print by a well-known artist, it is likely that you may find another impression of the same print that has been auctioned previously. By using these databases, what you are really looking for are comparisons to see if a like work has sold at auction to determine the probable value of yours.
The following are four art databases that can be used to review the artworks in your collection to determine if you need to have them appraised. The information in each database will differ as each gathers their information using a different paradigm.
According to my Google search, Invaluable is, “…the world’s largest online marketplace of fine and decorative arts, antiques, and collectibles, featuring a live online bidding platform that allows collectors and dealers to bid in real-time in auctions held around the world.” They provide 15+ years of auction results of art sold through their online platform which is easily accessed from their footer menu. They used to show the auction estimates for free on their site but have stopped this practice. This is the only database of the four that includes limited edition (reproductive) prints in addition to fine prints. You can access the sale prices of all items that have sold on invaluable by purchasing a day pass in the Professional column for $29.95.
If you are researching a painting, drawing, or sculpture (they do not have fine prints) Askart is a good place to look. They gather information from over 979 auction houses from around the world. You can easily see how many works are in the database by a given artist, but you will only be given access to the data by creating an account. They offer a One-day pass to use all their site’s features, with unlimited access to their database, for $19.95. Askart’s features include artist signature examples and charts that will show an artist’s auction sales from many points of view.
I have never used Artprice personally, but I was very impressed with its user interface and their video tutorial that appears to be an excellent introduction to using their search tools. According to its website, you can “Search 802,300 artists and 15,579,900 auction prices, 1,047,900 artworks listed for the past 12 months, from 6,500 auction houses around the world”
Based in France, Artprice appears to employ all the advanced features you would need to generate price comparisons and offers a one-day pass of unlimited searches for €34, or, at the writing of this post, around $37. You will also be able to see how many works filtered by medium, the database has by your artists of interest, before you commit to purchase a pass. Fine print sales are also included in the Artprice database.
As I recall, Artnet.com’s database of fine art auction sales was one of the first on the market to cover not only paintings, drawings, and sculpture, but also fine prints and multiples. My gallery has used this database for years and continues to subscribe to it, primarily because we were familiar with its user interface which they are currently in the process of updating. Because Artnet’s version of a One-day pass does not actually allow a days use of the database as the other sites do and because they limit the user to only 5 restricted searches for $32.50, I would not recommend it for a non-professional user. I am hoping, along with their user interface update, they will change their “day pass” policy to be more inline with their competitors.
An Interview with a Professional
The ISA (International Society of Appraisers), one of three major property appraisal organizations, was founded in 1979 to set rigorous standards of certification for property appraisers. To help demystify the world of property appraisals as they pertain to fine art, I interviewed Christine Guernsey, owner of Guernsey and Associates. Christine was National President of the ISA from 2015 to 2017 and served on its executive board of directors from 2011 through her term as president. She has had over 20 years experience as an appraiser and co-edited the ISA’s manual for appraising fine art. Christine’s fields of specialization include 19th and 20th century American and European paintings, works on paper, sculpture and collectables, regional and early Texas art, contemporary art, outdoor public sculpture, and American fiber art. Her appraisal practice services primarily higher end art collectors but most of her answers can be universally applied.
1. Appraisal Types:
What reasons would a person have to need an art appraisal?
There are many reasons someone would need an art appraisal. Probably the biggest reason for an art appraisal is insurance against damage or theft. But there are other reasons as well, such as settlement of an estate, donating a piece or collection to an institution, equitable distribution in a divorce, or wanting to know an accurate market value before selling a work.
Please discuss how the values for the different types of appraisals may differ and why?
An object can have different values, depending upon the function of the appraisal. For instance:
Replacement Cost Value is used when a collector needs an appraisal for insurance coverage.
An insurance appraisal seeks to provide an estimated cost of what a collector would require to make the collector whole again if their art is ever damaged or stolen. Using the cost approach methodology, value is estimated by what it would take to replace a unique item with a very similar artwork, or if the artist is living, to produce a duplicate work, or what it would cost to repair an artwork to bring it back to its original state before damage. Replacement cost value can include tax, shipping, and installation. Replacement cost value is usually estimated using dealer private sales or gallery/retail asking prices. It is often one of the highest cost values.
Fair Market Value is used when a collector is settling an estate, needing equitable distribution, or making a charitable donation.
It’s a value defined by a legal or regulatory jurisdiction and varies with individual jurisdictions. For federal use in the United States, such as charitable donations and estate or gift tax, fair market value is defined by “the most probable price at which property would change hands between a willing seller and a willing buyer, neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell, both having reasonable knowledge of all relevant facts, with the sale being made public in the most relevant market, taking into consideration the location of the property”.
This means that an appraiser determining fair market value, is looking at comparable examples of similar works which have sold within the last five years before an appraisal’s effective date. For items valued over $20,000, an appraisal prepared by a qualified appraiser is required to accompany the client’s tax return.
Market Value is similar to Fair Market Value.
It is the value most often sought if someone is thinking about selling a work. It is the most probable amount of money a buyer would pay, and a seller would receive within an identified market and within a timeframe.
It is very similar to fair market value. In market value, there is an assumption of a sale within a specified period of time. In cases where fair market value is used the assumption of sale is more hypothetical and doesn’t need to be consummated.
Please explain what a “loss-on-value” evaluation is and how it would relate to the following two scenarios?
Say you are appraising a large minimalist lithograph by Ellsworth Kelly of a red shape on an off-white paper sheet where a flat red ink was used to create the red shape. The appraiser sees a non-reparable one-inch-long buffed line in the otherwise pristine red shape that reflects light differently than the rest of the mat red field from wherever a viewer is standing. If you have determined that the print is worth $10,000 in pristine condition, please explain how you would go about establishing a current market value for this Kelly print.
You are asked to appraise an Arles period Van Gogh painting that you have determined in perfect condition would be worth $50 million. This painting had a hole poked in it causing approximately one square inch of total paint loss and damage to the canvas underneath. How would you go about establishing a current market value for this Van Gogh painting?
Condition is the very first thing I look for when inspecting a work! The condition of a work plays a large part in the final value assignment. If a work is in pristine condition, especially for its age, it would have a higher value than a work with a lot of craquelure issues or paint loss.
The situations you are asking about, would most likely need damage appraisals looking for a loss-on-value also known as “diminution of value,” to help settle insurance claims after damage has occurred. This type of appraisal is different from a normal insurance appraisal where one is looking for a replacement cost value to make a client whole again if the artwork is ever damaged or stolen.
A loss-on-value insurance appraisal assesses the degree to which an item has lost value because of damage and subsequent professional repair/restoration. Mathematically, the loss-on-value of an item equals the difference in the market value of the artwork prior to the damage, and the market value of the property after the damage has been repaired. Loss-on-value can’t be determined until after a work of art has been repaired. The quality of the repair absolutely needs to be taken into consideration. Typically, the better the quality of the repair, then the lower the loss-of-value, if any. I have had situations where repairs were so good that the collector ended up with works in better condition than they had before the damage.
Loss-on-value of a restored piece is the amount by which a hypothetical seller might reduce the price of an identical or comparable item in order to induce a hypothetical buyer to purchase it.
The situations you describe would take two different approaches. In the case of the Ellsworth Kelly, I would first determine if multiples of that print were still on the market and available. There are a few really good paper conservationists in our area. I have seen them repair and restore items that had been damaged by mold, had areas torn off, scratches to the surface of the paper, etc. They do amazing work. However, if there were multiples still available, I would probably recommend that the print be considered a total loss because of the centrally located damage to the surface and the fact that pristine surfaces are important to this minimalist artist. At that point the insurance company would most likely settle with the collector to provide a full replacement cost value, in order for the collector to replace their print with another comparable item.
If there were no more multiples readily available, I would recommend several paper restorers for the client or insurance company to decide who to go to, and then would follow the process in the above description of how loss-on-value is determined.
In the case of the Van Gogh, I would definitely recommend the client visit with a top painting conservationist to discuss repair options. After the painting was repaired and conserved, I would again follow the mathematics of the loss-on-value formula. Depending upon the quality of the repair and where the hole had occurred, would determine the final market value. Holes directly in the middle of a painting are usually more worrisome than damage in an outer edge.
For an insurance appraisal, (to update the insurance) what guidelines would you recommend a person use to decide if an appraisal is warranted?
Insurance is important and collector’s need to cover what is important to them, whether in a special rider or in their home policy. An ethical appraiser when viewing a collection, can recommend which items probably aren’t worth the cost of appraising. It takes between 3 – 6 hours per item, (start to finish – inspection, research, and report preparation), at an hourly fee to appraise an item. A collector needs to determine whether or not they want to pay for something to be appraised, if the cost of the appraisal will be more than an item’s value.
2. Appraiser Qualifications:
How should a person go about finding an appraiser and what should they do to be sure that the appraiser they have found is qualified to appraise what they have?
To be a qualified appraising member of these three organizations, an appraiser needs to pass certain educational courses on appraisal methodology provided by the organization, as well as taking the 7-hour Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice course (USPAP). USPAP is recognized as the ethical and performance standards for the appraisal industry.
After taking the initial 7-hour USPAP course, qualified appraisers are required to take a refresher course every two years. Each professional appraisal organization, while essentially teaching the same methodologies, have various organizational requirements to become accredited and certified. All organizations follow guidelines put forth by the Appraisal Foundation. An appraiser who is certified, has passed the highest level of course requirements as well as the required amount of actual related practicing hours.
In addition to whether or not an appraiser is certified with an appraisal organization and USPAP trained, a collector should review the appraiser’s educational background as well as experience. Does the appraiser have a degree in art history? Have they worked in a museum, gallery or auction house? Experience and education are really the most important key when choosing among accredited and certified appraisers.
What appraisal organizations offer certification and why is that important?
All three, ISA, AAA, and ASA offer program pathways for accreditation of an appraiser. In my organization (ISA), in order to become certified, one has to document 200 hours of appraisal-related experience in the last five years after becoming an accredited member. They also must complete a certification exam based on application theory, principles, methodology, ethics, and report writing standards to real-life appraisal scenarios involving the appraisal functions typically encountered by personal property appraisers. A sample appraisal report also needs to be submitted and reviewed by a committee of certified appraisers. ISA is also the only organization that requires its members to take a re-qualification course every five years.
Hiring a certified appraiser is important so that a collector can be confident knowing that their appraiser understands methodology and can produce a credible appraisal report.
Do these organizations require recertification? (Continuing education)
To my knowledge, only ISA requires its members to requalify every five years, however, all organizations have continuing education opportunities where members can increase their knowledge on different aspects of appraising. All three have annual conferences with two days of continuing education seminars.
3. The Written Appraisal:
Please walk through an appraisal from beginning to end.
When you are contacted what do you usually do to determine if the person who contacted you needs an appraisal?
The first step is always to determine what kind of appraisal they need and how they plan to use it. If they need it for insurance, then we discuss what their insurance company requires and if their policy has any minimum value requirements for artwork. We then discuss when the object was purchased or when it was inherited. We discuss basic information about the artwork(s) they want evaluated such as:
Who is the artist?
What is the medium and size?
What kind of paperwork regarding the art is available?
Is there a past appraisal?
Finally, we discuss the process of appraising and what the client can expect from the appraisal before setting up an appointment for the inspection.
If you think an appraisal is warranted on the artworks they have, what are the next steps. Do you have a contract, provide an estimate, and if so, what is the estimate based on?
If I think an appraisal is warranted, I arrange for a free inspection. A free inspection allows me to see exactly what they want to appraise and how many items they actually have. Many times, people will say they have 3 things and once you get there it turns out they found 5 more things in a closet. After reviewing everything they want appraised, I can give them an estimate.
On average, from start to finish, one object can take from 3-6 hours depending on how difficult it is to research. Start to finish means inspection, research, and report preparation. If they agree to go forward, I ask for a deposit for half of the estimated cost and then send them a contract. The contract specifies the works agreed to appraise, the expected deadline for completion, the expected cost, and any specifics for the particular appraisal.
How do you go about examining the artwork and what information do you normally capture?
When I inspect, I’m looking at condition. I inspect the front and verso of a work looking at condition, looking for signatures and dates, and any markings and labels for exhibitions. I measure the work and photograph it front and back. These photos are included in the report.
I then ask for any and all documentation they have regarding the art and or whole collection. Do they have a past appraisal? Receipts? Provenance information? This information is used to speed up the research process to help keep appraisal cost down.
Any information gathered which is pertinent to the appraisal is included in the addendum of the report. Receipts and provenance information, previous condition reports or anything of importance regarding the work, are important to include to help support value. These documents can be scanned and inserted into the appraisal report. Scanning and organizing pertinent information in this way, helps the client to keep important and relevant information organized in one spot.
A past appraisal is interesting and provides some preliminary identification information. This helps cut down on some research time which saves the client money. The values on past appraisals are not considered in a new appraisal. Values in a new appraisal are the item’s current values as of the report’s effective date.
How do you go about researching the probable value of the work for insurance?
It depends whether or not the work(s) are in the primary or secondary market and whether or not the artist is deceased or still alive and producing work.
If a work is still in the primary market and the artist is still producing, it’s possible that a work can be replaced by another similar work, repaired, or duplicated by the artist. In these cases, it is the asking price publicly stated by the artist, or gallery that represents the artist, and adjusted depending upon the function and purpose of the appraisal.
In most cases, a work created by a deceased artist is researched by comparing the work against similar items sold at auction or in private sales. Auctions used to be a place where many galleries sourced their works but in the past 15 years, the public has participated in auctions and dealers are sourcing elsewhere. This means that if a work’s market is the auction, then the auction sold prices can now be used for replacement cost. If an artist from the secondary market is in demand and still being sold in a gallery or private sale, then I will talk directly with the gallery director to get information for items sold within the gallery or through private sales.
If it is an item that is still in the primary market, then I go directly to the gallery where they originally purchased the item or if they inherited it, the most common market (or gallery) that they would approach if they needed to replace the work.
What are the elements of the appraisal report you produce and is it different for each type of appraisal?
Every appraisal is unique, but any professional appraisal needs to consist of three main parts: a Cover Letter, the Body of the appraisal, and an Addendum. Following are details on what each part should contain.
A cover letter contains specific information about the appraisal and appraised object. It should identify the following:
The object being appraised
Discuss the inspection and how it was handled and who was present
State information regarding the effective date for values
Who the client is
Who owns the work
Who can use the report
The methodology used to determine the value of the objects
An explanation of the current art market and what factors played into the determined value
An explanation of the specific market for the artist(s) being appraised
The cover letter states up front what the appraised value is. The value is restated on the appraisal summary page as well as in the description of the object in the body of the report.
The cover letter should explain whether the market has gone up or down for the artist(s) being appraised since the object was first obtained as well as explaining the scope of work utilized within the assignment.
It’s important that the cover letter include USPAP statements by appraisers who are USPAP trained. The purpose of USPAP is to promote and maintain a high level of public trust in appraisal practice by establishing ethical and professional standards for appraisal practice.
An example of USPAP statements are as follows:
Statements of fact contained in this report are true and correct as given to me by you my client. The opinions stated are based on a full and fair consideration of all the facts presented to me and available at the time of this appraisal.
The reported analyses, opinions, and conclusions are limited only by the reported critical assumptions and limiting conditions, and are my own personal, impartial, and unbiased professional analyses, opinions, and conclusions.
I have no undisclosed past, present, or contemplated future interest in the property that is subject of this report, and no personal interest in respect to the parties involved.
I have performed no services, as an appraiser or in any other capacity regarding the artwork reported on in this appraisal, within the past three-year period immediately preceding acceptance of this assignment.
My engagement in this assignment is not contingent upon the developing or reporting of predetermined results.
My compensation for this appraisal is not contingent upon the development or reporting of a predetermined value or direction in value that favors the cause of the client, the amount of the value opinion, the attainment of a stipulated result, or the occurrence of a subsequent event directly related to the intended use of this appraisal.
I personally inspected the painting which is to be the subject of this report. It was inspected and photographed by me on [the inspection date and where]
I prepared this appraisal impartially with no significant contributions from another individual [or if other individuals were involved, who they were]. Consultations were completed with several dealers and scholars who specialize in the works of [artist]. Their opinions were regarded along with my comparison findings and research. During this time your privacy was absolutely the utmost concern of mine. Every effort was made to keep the purpose of the appraisal and your identity unknown. Names of who I consulted with are listed in the bibliography.
This appraisal has been prepared in conformity with and subject to the 2020-21 version of The Appraisal Foundation’s Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and written to the current International Society of Appraisers’ Writing Standards.
The body of the report includes pictures taken at the inspection, the object’s specific identification information such as size, year created, provenance information, condition, and where obtained. After a thorough description of the object, comparables follow.
Comparables are examples of items that have recently sold or the current asking prices for objects that are either from a same edition or very similar to the work being appraised.
Objects that are no longer being sold in the primary market and are now obtained through a private sale or at auction, are compared to similar sold auction items or sold private sales. In the case of a sold private sale, there are discussions about what a dealer might hypothetically ask if they were to sell the appraised work. If the appraised object is still being sold in the primary market, then there are discussions with the most common market gallery about what the current asking prices are.
Comparables used to determine value are included in the report. I include what they sold for or what the asking price is, where it sold and the date or where it is being sold, a picture of the comparison along with pertinent information about the comparable and comments as to why the comparable was used and how it relates to the appraised object.
The final part of an appraisal report is the Addendum. This is where any information such as the receipts, provenance information, condition report etc. are scanned and inserted into the report. The addendum should always have a bibliography which shows what sources the appraiser used to obtain a value and what experts they spoke to. The final piece in the addendum is the appraisers CV and qualifications for taking on the assignment.
How is the appraisal normally presented to the client?
If it’s for insurance purposes, a PDF of the report is sent to the client. This makes it easier for the client to share with their insurance company and also make as many copies as they might need. If it’s for any kind of federal usage, then several signed hard copies are provided as well as a PDF.
4. What Does an Appraisal Cost:
What should a person expect to pay for an appraisal?
Well, that depends on the function of the appraisal, how many items are being appraised, and the difficulty in researching the object. An ethical appraiser charges by the hour and not a percentage of the value in the report.
There is no set fee for any appraiser. I’ve seen appraisers charge $150 per hour all the way up to $300 per hour. As I said earlier, it seems like one object on average takes 3-6 billable hours from start to finish. With my appraisals, it usually takes longer than 3-6 hours as there is time waiting for communication returns from experts as well time just thinking and analyzing that isn’t charged for. A lot of the research time gets comped.
Is travel time calculated in and if so, how? I.e., what elements are they charged for.
Again, this is something that varies between appraisers. Some do and some don’t, depending upon the distance traveled. When I need to appraise something in another state I sometimes charge for mileage or the plane ticket, but not the actual travel time.
When an appraisal is being done for gift tax purposes, who is responsible for paying for the appraisal?
Whoever the client is. If the gift giver is alive then they are the ones paying for the appraisal and receiving the appraisal. If they are dead then it’s the estate. In that case the lawyer or trustee could be the client.
5. General Questions About Appraisals & Appraisers:
In a formalized appraisal, the appraiser is required to give a single value for an artwork on a specific date, not a range, for the artwork they are appraising. Please explain how this can be done.
If the appraised value is based on an asking price, then it’s pretty easy to give one value. If it’s being compared to many similar sold objects, then those comparisons, after throwing out any outlier comparables (things that sold much higher than expected or items that didn’t sell or were greatly discounted), are averaged to determine one value. There are cases where a range is important but for insurance, most insurance companies require one value, not a range.
How does an appraiser handle the appraisal of an artwork that in Bolivia would sell for $20,000 at auction but in the country in which the appraisal is being done, it has little or no market?
Value in appraising, no matter what the function, is based solely on the most relevant market and where the client is most likely to go if they have to replace the object. This is an important aspect of information gathered at the inspection. If the client travels frequently to Bolivia to purchase for their collection, then Bolivia would be the most common and relevant market for them. Those values can be used. If they would try to replace it in the US, then the values asked for in the US are used.
Do you think it is ethical for an appraiser to recommend ways a client might sell an artwork other than in broad generalities?
When working with clients there are all kinds of additional services they need, whether shipping and packing recommendations, whether or not they should try to sell something privately or at auction, or have a work authenticated or conserved. An experienced appraiser will have worked with various professionals in related fields and can make several recommendations on who the appraiser feels might be the best source for the client in both terms of quality of service and cost.
When I make recommendations, I give at least three relevant options. The client decides who and how they want to use those services.
Do you think it is ethical for an art dealer to appraise artworks for any reason other than insurance purposes?
If a dealer has just sold a work recently to a client then of course a dealer knows what the present value is. If the sale was recent, collectors can use their receipts for insurance value.
Unless a dealer has been appraisal methodology trained, other than an appraisal for insurance purposes, it’s best to use a professional appraiser to make sure the value is correct for the function.
What is the difference between an appraisal and an authentication and how does the appraiser appraise an artwork when they do not know if the artwork is authentic or not?
The big difference is authentication can only be stated by the leading expert in the field or the artist’s estate. This is a tough one these days as many of the artist estates no longer provide authentication services. An appraiser should never authenticate anything unless the appraiser is the leading expert on that artist or an object. That said, the authentication process can be confusing as every artist estate requires completely different steps and fees. An experienced appraiser should be able to help their clients through the process of authentication.
If I have an object that requires authentication, I usually go to a library which contains catalogue raisonnés. A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known works of an artist either in a particular medium or all media. It is usually compiled by the leading expert and often in conjunction with the artist while they are alive. These catalogues are very expensive so usually only available through specific libraries or galleries who represent the artist’s works.
I will research an object to see if it is listed in the catalogue. If I can’t find the image in the catalogue raisonné, and believe the work authentic, further research may be warranted. With the help and permission of the client, I then contact the artist’s estate or the leading expert and seek their opinion. This has to be done in cooperation with the client since I am not the owner of the work.
There are multiple and varied charges and rules depending upon the estate. If a client wants the paint, signature, or style analyzed, I can recommend several companies who provide that type of service, but the client has to work with the estate and pay for the services. I provide guidance as to the steps involved. Arrangements can also be made to photograph a work by infra-red photography or black light in order to see under the paint or to determine whether or not a signature was applied to the surface at a later date.
I will tell the client upfront if I think that there is something that red flags the work being problematic. If I think there is any possibility that the work might be fake or forged, in addition, I tell the client up front. I include wording in the report as to what steps I took to determine whether or not I think it’s authentic or not authentic. I include a statement that if for some reason in the future the object turns out not to be authentic, or if it turns out to be authentic in the future, that the value stated in the appraisal is no longer valid and a new appraisal needs to be completed.
Can a museum appraise or authenticate an artwork?
Museums don’t prepare appraisals, it’s a conflict of interest. An appraiser can certainly discuss with a curator whether or not they think the object looks good or something isn’t right about it. Things still have to be authenticated by the estate or leading expert on the subject.
Can an artwork be evaluated after a loss?
Of course. At that point the appraisal is different from a typical insurance appraisal. When something is damaged and the appraiser is working with the insurance company and those involved in either replacing or repairing the work, then a Loss-on-Value report is done to help make the client whole again and determine what amount of loss is involved.
Any last comments?
If I could give a potential appraisal client three take-a-ways, they would be:
Research your potential appraiser. Ask other collectors for recommendations and talk to the professional requiring the appraisal for recommendations. Interview at least three qualified appraisers and compare their education and experience. Their qualifications should be more important than price of the appraisal being charged. If all qualifications are equal, then you can choose an appraiser based on cost. Make sure they charge by the hour and not the total value of the collection. This assures the collector that items aren’t over-valued just to send the client a higher bill.
Do provide the appraiser with as much information as you have. Appraisers aren’t cheating by using this information. They are often using the information for identification and to save time in researching an artist they are unfamiliar with. This saves the collector on billable hours. Some of the pertinent information is used in the report to help substantiate value and is referenced or included in the Addendum.
Be realistic on deadlines. If you are making a charitable donation, don’t wait until a week before Christmas to contact an appraiser. Even in Antiques Roadshow, the appraiser’s need time to research. It just looks like they have all this knowledge in their head and call up a value in a moment’s notice thanks to good editing.
Appraisers need time to contact dealers and auction houses, research, think about the process and how they want to handle the report. Not every hour spent on your appraisal is billable. It could take up to a month or more for experts to return communications that appraisers need to complete a report. If you are only charged 4 hours for an appraiser’s services, know that it most likely took more hours to actually complete the assignment.
I am very grateful to Christine for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. It is clear from her answers that finding the most knowledgeable and experienced appraiser will normally provide you with the most accurate values for your art.
There are many factors and variables that affect the value of an artwork and appraisers need to know what is relevant to what they are appraising. Knowing how to read the information in an auction database; having a general working knowledge of artists materials and the mediums they work with and how they interact; understanding the current market for each type of art; knowing what types of damage whether inherent, sustained by age, abuse, or ineptness can occur to each artwork type and how to identify them; knowing how to locate the appropriate experts or authorities for each artist; and being able to discern which factors and variables apply to each work being appraised is the difference between a decent appraiser and an excellent one.
Understand that the value an appraiser places on an artwork is an educated guess based mostly on the factors I have described above. It stands to reason that the more experience in the field an appraiser has had, the closer they will come to zeroing in on a proper value for the purpose of the appraisal. Two experienced appraisers’ evaluations of the same artwork should be very close, but you should not expect them to be exactly the same. The only way to determine the actual monetary value of an artwork at a given moment in time is when the sale of that artwork is consummated and title to the artwork passes from a willing seller to a willing buyer. At any other time, determining that value is a guess, whether educated or not.
Three Insurance Experts Explain the Intricacies of Insuring Your Art Collection
I am often asked by clients if they should cover their art under their homeowner’s insurance (HO) or if they should investigate insuring their art with a separate fine art collectors’ policy. Since I am an art dealer and not an insurance agent, I thought it prudent to do a deep dive into the world of fine art insurance so I could properly advise my clients. As I started to research the subject, I was shocked to discover how little I knew about fine art collector’s insurance and how inadequately most HO policies cover collectibles like fine art. To help others better understand how their art is currently covered, or not covered, I have written this informational post titled, Fine Art Insurance 101.
To research this article, I looked at both homeowners’ and personal inland marine policies, and specialized policies written just for art collectors. I also interviewed an insurance agent who offers homeowners’ insurance, a fine art insurance specialist, and a fine art provider who underwrites fine art policies to learn what is covered, how is it covered, who will pay a claim, and how it will be handled.
To better understand each perspective, I have divided my post into three parts.
Is Your Art Adequately Covered by Your Homeowner’s (HO) Insurance?
I called the agent who handles my HO insurance, Connie Butler. Connie is the Personal Lines Manager for Champion Commercial Insurance in Dallas, Texas. She was kind enough to visit with me about how fine art and other collectibles are covered by most HO policies, and ways to improve on the protection they offer. If you have actually read your HO policy front to back and have scheduled your fine art and other collectibles on an attached personal Inland Marine Policy, move on to part two, if you have not done both of these, don’t skip part one!
An Interview with a Fine Art Insurance Specialist
I emailed Houston, Texas based Adrienne Reid, Vice President of one of the largest fine art insurance specialty brokerages in the country, Huntington T. Block, and she was kind enough to answer my many questions about the when, how, and whys of fine art collector’s insurance. Early on in our conversation, Adrienne answered the “When” question by saying “If you can walk around your house and you determine that you have more than 5 artworks that exceed $10,000 each in value, you should consult an agent or firm that specializes in fine art insurance.”
An Interview with a Fine Art Insurance Provider
Most insurance is underwritten by an insurance provider. A provider evaluates the risk, provides a quote, issues coverage, and, in the event of a covered loss, pays the coverage set forth in the policy.
To learn more about the role played by a fine art insurance provider, I emailed Katja Zigerlig, Vice President of Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory with Berkley One, a Berkley Company that specializes in providing insurance for fine art and collectibles, as well as high-end homes, autos, liability, and watercraft. She and her team were extremely helpful and most generous with their time.
Note: I am not promoting any specific agent or insurance company with this post. I am grateful to and crediting those who gave liberally of their time to advise me, and thankful for the education I received in the process. I hope you find what follows enlightening.
Is Your Art Covered by Your HO Insurance?
My first inquiry focused on how a fine art loss was handled by a standard HO policy. To do this, I interviewed the agent who currently handles my HO insurance, Connie Butler. Connie is the Personal Lines Manager for Champion Commercial Insurance in Dallas, Texas.
Soon into the interview, I realized that certain types of personal property, primarily collectibles like fine art, are not normally handled the way I thought. I naively “assumed” that the word “All Risk” meant just that, and all my personal property was covered up to the amount stated on my policy’s declarations page. So, I thought that if I had a policy with a personal property limit of $500,000, and a $25,000 painting was stolen from my home, it would be completely covered, less the deductible of course. I was wrong. I now realize that HO insurance is designed to insure your home, not protect your art collection.
Many of your possessions like clothes, furniture, and appliances are covered, in most cases, by a replacement value. In the event of theft however, other item categories like fine art, jewelry, and furs, have classification limits varying from $500 to $5,000 per category depending on the policy.
To provide more realistic and broader coverage to your valuable personal property items like fine art, your agent will normally offer you another type of policy called a personal Inland Marine Policy, sometimes called a “floater” or “endorsement.” In this type of policy, individual items and their value are listed; the coverage is broader; most claims are handled quicker; and the coverage is usually less expensive than blanket coverage. The following is a synopsis of my interview with Connie:
The most common types of HO policies and how they generally relate to a fine art collector.
Types of HO Policies:
The two types of insurance policies available to a homeowner are “Named Peril” and “All-Risk.” As its name implies, the “Named Peril” policy only covers the perils that are listed in the policy. Of the two, the “All-Risk” policy usually provides broader coverage for a homeowner.
What an All-Risk HO policy covers:
Within the stated dollar limits on a policy’s declarations page, an All-Risk HO insurance policy provides coverage from all risks or perils that could damage your home or its contents and personal property unless the risks are specifically excluded or limited by the policy.
How your personal property is covered by most HO polices:
What is covered:
Most All-Risk HO policies provide blanket coverage for most of your personal property. In the event of any covered loss, a deductible will be applied. How these claims are paid will depend on if your personal property is covered for “Replacement Cost” or by “Actual Cash Value.” In the event of a total loss of an insured item, “Replacement Cost” coverage will replace the item with a new one of equal or like quality, while “Actual Cash Value” coverage will provide the insured a cash payment equal to the item’s depreciated value at the time of the loss.
What is Partially Covered (Special Limits of Liability):
In most All-Risk HO policies, personal property items of a certain type or category are handled differently than the rest of your personal property when it comes to theft or mysterious disappearance. These categories are individually identified in the policy and often include collectibles such as fine art, currency, coins, stamps, and jewelry. The amount of money paid to the insured in the event of this type of loss is capped depending on the category. For instance, the amount of money paid the insured for the theft of one or more artworks that have a total combined value of $20,000 could be as little as $500 depending on the policy. These are items that the Insurance companies want you to schedule separately under an Inland Marine Policy.
Other Types of losses not covered in an HO policy:
Losses typically not covered include damage caused intentionally by the insured, damages caused by lack of proper maintenance, terrorism, nuclear war, damage by smog, bug infestations, rust, mold, general wear and tear, and any other exclusions listed in the policy contract. Also, most all policies will protect the insurance company if it is found that the insured intentionally provided false information to get insurance or while making a claim.
How your agent can provide better coverage for your personal property than your standard HO policy provides:
To protect an insured’s property that is not covered by the standard HO policy, companies normally offer another type of policy called a personal Inland Marine Policy. Attached to this policy is a list provided by the insured of all the property that exceeds the limits of their homeowner’s policy that they want insured and the value they want each item insured for. This type of policy will normally have fewer restrictions than a HO policy and provide more in-depth coverage. If an item on the schedule is lost to an unexcluded risk, the insured will receive the amount of money specified as the items listed value, unless a deductible applies. If the item is damaged and not a total loss, the policy will normally pay for its restoration up to its listed value.
Scheduled Personal Property Insurance is always an “All Risk” policy. This means that it will cover against “… all risk of physical loss or damage to your property described in the schedule of Personal Articles, unless an exclusion applies.” For each item covered, you would normally have to provide your agent with a photograph, a copy of the original purchase receipt, and sometimes an appraisal if you want to list the item for more than was originally paid.
I asked Connie when she thought an insured should add a personal Inland Marine Policy to their HO insurance. Without hesitation, she said that “if you have any personal property valued at $2,500 or more, you should list it separately on a Scheduled Personal Property Policy.” That is the best way of knowing that it is covered properly.
Be sure your HO is an “All Risk” “Replacement Cost” policy. It will usually cost a little more but worth it if you have a tornado rip through your home.
To truly understand how your home and possessions are insured, read your entire homeowner’s policy, especially the attached “other coverages” and “endorsements” pages. The “other coverages” and “endorsements” have the power to change coverages in the basic HO policy.
If you have read something in your policy you did not expect or did not understand, call your agent, and get clarification. After a loss is not the time to find out you were not covered for a risk you assumed you were.
According to my agent, it is important to photograph each room showing not only your art but all of your personal property that is visible in the room. (although this may not relate to art, open closets and drawers and photograph what is visible inside.) Categorize images by room and upload the files to the cloud and to several thumb drives that can be kept in a safe deposit box or with a relative. My agent said that if your house is hit with a tornado and your possessions are scattered over the county, you will have a hard time proving to the insurance company that you actually had the items in your claim without photographic evidence.
Inland Marine Policy:
Scheduled Inland Marine Policies are All-Risk and pay the insured the amount listed on the policy or repair the item if a loss occurs that isn’t excluded by the policy.
Any item you own that is kept in your home and is valued over $2,500 should be itemized on a scheduled personal Inland Marine Policy. You can update the value on any item if you can provide your agent with evidence of a greater value. (I recommend that if you do not have a separate policy covering your fine art, that any artwork you have paid over $1,000 for be listed on your Scheduled Personal Property Policy.)
An Interview with a Fine Art Specialist.
Insurance companies that specialize in HO and automobile insurance are rarely equipped to handle the specific needs of an “Art Collector.” The good news is that there are companies that write policies geared specifically for the fine art collector and agents who specialize in matching these policies with those who need them.
One of these agents is Houston-based Adrienne Reid, Vice President of Huntington T. Block. Adrienne has specialized in fine art insurance for over 15 years helping museums, galleries and collectors keep their art properly insured. Via email, Adrienne was kind enough to answer my many questions about the when, how, and whys of fine art collector insurance.
Here are her responses to my questions:
When should a person consider getting a separate policy for their artwork?
When you start growing your collection beyond just a couple of artworks, you should investigate insuring your art under a separate fine art policy. If you want broader and more specialized coverage for your art than what can be obtained from your homeowners insurance company, a fine art collectors’ policy is going to be a better option.
What are the advantages of having a separate fine art policy over listing your art on your scheduled personal property policy?
Generally speaking, a fine art policy includes coverage for breakage, flood, and mysterious disappearance – which are commonly excluded on a homeowner’s policy. The policy also typically extends to transit and other locations – which may not be the case on a homeowner’s policy. Make sure to read an actual issued policy to confirm what is covered. But by far the biggest advantage is having a specialized broker who is knowledgeable regarding fine art coverage and who will place the coverage with an insurer who uses fine art specialized adjusters in the event of a claim. A homeowner’s policy would send a general property adjuster, who may not know how best to handle a fine art loss or understand the implications of loss in value to artwork that can be restored.
What types of fine art policies are available?
For Huntington T. Block clients, both personal and corporate, we offer either a Scheduled (agreed value form) or a Blanket (current market value form) based on a client’s situation.
The Scheduled Form – The values on the schedule attached to the policy are the agreed values for coverage under the policy.
Pro: The amount insured is certain and does not go down if market prices fall
Con: If the value goes up, the insurer will only pay the scheduled amount. All new acquisitions and collection changes must be reported immediately and changed on the policy. Only the specific artworks scheduled on the policy are covered.
The Blanket Form – The policy limit is blanket over all locations. No schedule is attached to the policy, and no individual values are listed. Valuation is current market value.
Pro: Current market value can provide assurance in the event that artworks increase in value due to market conditions, for example, driven by popularity of an artist or genre, death of an artist, etc. All artworks owned by the collector are covered up to the policy limit with no per item maximum.
Con: If values go down, there is a possibility the insured will collect less than they paid for the item(s) because the valuation is based on current market values.
For both policies, collectors choose a deductible for their level of risk tolerance. A high deductible provides lower annual premium, but more out of pocket in the event of a loss. A low deductible has higher annual premium, but less out of pocket in the event of a loss.
Of the two types of policies, which is the most popular among your clients?
About 80% of our clients have chosen a Blanket Coverage policy.
Can you give an example of how you would determine which type of policy is best for a new client?
If a collector is actively acquiring and wants protection in case their artwork values go up prior to getting an updated appraisal – a blanket policy may suit them. If the collector is not actively acquiring and wants certainty in the value of the art insured on the policy – then a scheduled policy may suit them.
What types of questions do you ask a prospective client to determine if they need Fine Art insurance?
Do they have a collection of more than one or two artworks?
Do they plan to continue collecting?
What is the total value of the artwork?
Where is it located?
Do they intend to sell the collection in the near future (or is it part of an estate)?
When was the last appraisal done?
Do they have an inventory of the collection?
I know that most insurance is underwritten by third party companies. What do you need from a prospective client to get a premium quote?
When the collector determines that a separate fine art policy meets their circumstance, I send them an application. Once it is returned along with a copy of the most recent appraisal or collection inventory, I will send it on to several underwriters to get quotes.
How do you determine what underwriters to contact when looking for the best match for your client and what is the process of approaching the ones you feel would be the best fit for a quote?
This depends entirely on an insured’s location (are they in a catastrophic area?), the total value of the collection, and how quickly they need a quote turned around. Once I determine the underwriters, I submit to them the completed application, collection appraisal or inventory, and the quote specifications. As a broker, my role is to represent the client and identify underwriters for their coverage needs – and make sure that it is the most competitive premium available.
How many companies are out there that do Fine Art collection underwriting?
There are about eight insurance companies that have specific fine art underwriters in the United States.
Is there an average number of underwriters you would approach per client?
Generally, no more than three – unless there are issues with the submission – like claims history or catastrophic area, etc. Typically, once we receive an application, we know which underwriters to approach.
I understand that in most cases, fine art collection insurance is less expensive than scheduling the artworks on a homeowner’s policy. Can you provide a range of a percentage cost per year that each type of fine arts policy covers?
That is a tough question – because so much depends on the size and location of the art collection and the client’s claim history. HTB writes over 1,000 art collectors in the United States. In general, premium rates go down as the collection total value goes up.
Once insured, what is the most important thing a collector can do to protect their collection?
A good digitally stored inventory, and quality digital photographs of each artwork is paramount. These should be stored offsite and/or in the cloud so that in the event of a catastrophic loss, an insured has documentation to provide to the adjuster.
As with any insurance claim, the more information and documentation that you are able to provide the adjuster, the better. An adjuster may have a difficult time settling the appropriate payout for a claim if the collector does not have detailed information about the artworks. Making sure that the collector has updated documentation (that is accessible after a loss) is one of the most important things they can do to be prepared.
My research shows that there are a lot of companies offering fine art collection insurance based in London. Many of them will offer a quote to ensure a single artwork online by asking only three questions; your name, email address, and the value of the artwork you want insured. Can you comment on these companies?
I am not sure that a company would be in a position to offer a binding quote based on such limited amount of information. It may be an attempt to gather information for another purpose.
Once you have your fine art policy in place, what actions should you take after a loss; say a picture falls off the wall or your artwork is lost in shipment?
Tips for these two scenarios:
Art Falls Off the Wall
Take several photographs before moving the artwork.
If safe to move, move artwork out of harm’s way.
Determine extent of damage. Depending on the damage, it may not be desirable to file a claim. But it is always best to notify your broker of the damage so they can notify the insurance company. It is better to err on the side of reporting damage; claims can always be withdrawn if it is decided to handle the expenses out of pocket.
Report to your insurance company
Artwork is Lost in Shipping
Notify the shipper and the insurance company.
The insurance company will work with the shipper to investigate the loss. If the artwork is later received, keep the insurance company updated.
I think Adrienne pretty much covered what is important to know about obtaining a fine art collectors’ policy. However, I did want to mention two things to think about while applying for, and after your insurance is in force.
If your agent provides quotes from several underwriters, in addition to reviewing the cost, limits, and deductibles of each policy, be sure to ask your agent about any differences in coverage each provider is offering. Also, after the fine art policy you have chosen is in effect, if you have any artwork already covered by your personal inland marine policy that is now also covered under your new fine art policy, don’t forget to call your HO agent and have those works removed. You do not want to pay for double coverage and then have the company who covers your fine art insurance feuding with the company that covers your HO insurance about who is responsible for paying a claim.
An Interview with a Fine Art Insurance Provider
When you have made the decision to insure your art on a separate fine art collectors’ policy, the organizations that your agent contacts to request coverage options and premium quotes are known as insurance providers. These are the entities that underwrite the insurance and are responsible for paying any covered claims.
To better understand the role of the provider regarding fine art insurance, I emailed Katja Zigerlig, Vice President of Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory with Berkley One, a Berkley Company. Through the insurance company subsidiaries of W. R. Berkley Corporation, Berkley One specializes in underwriting insurance for fine art and collectibles, as well as for high-end homes, autos, liability, and watercraft. Katja and her team were kind enough to furnish answers to my questions about the role of a fine art insurance provider.
Following are the answers to my questions:
What is a provider’s business relationship with the insurance agent?
As an insurance provider, Berkley One works very closely with independent insurance brokers and agents, whose role is to work with a client directly and advise him or her on their insurance needs based on risk exposure. Independent agents and brokers typically work with multiple providers to offer clients a range of insurance solutions that fit their needs.
What is the provider’s business relationship with a prospective client?
When an applicant who is looking for coverage contacts an agent who specializes in insuring fine art, their agent will begin working with providers such as Berkley One to obtain an insurance quote. To get the information that we need to provide a proper quote, we would, along with the applicant and agent, work together to get correct information about the applicant—including things like home value, elevation certificates if the applicant lives in a flood zone, appropriate legal documents when necessary, and a full schedule of artworks to be insured—to help make sure we can offer a solution that fits their needs.
Sometimes we get inquiries from applicants directly. When this happens, we will find out more information about the applicant and risk, then connect them with an appropriate independent insurance agent who then becomes their source for insurance advice.
Once an applicant becomes a client, then the provider is “on risk” (the insurance contract is now in force).
When an agent sends a provider a prospective client’s application and a request for a quote, what steps does the provider take to determine if, and under what conditions, they will offer a policy to cover the collection?
Assessing a risk exposure is called underwriting and is an important part of the insurance process. For personal collections, some major risk factors that a provider can consider are the physical location where the collection is kept, the nature of the collection, and the type of collector. For example, a million-dollar collection of paintings in a condo in South Beach, Florida has different weather exposures than the same collection in a house in St. Louis, Missouri. A collection of glass sculptures has a higher probability of breaking than a collection of paintings. Often, these risks can be mitigated, so knowing the protections in place for a collection is also important.
How does a provider determine how a premium is calculated? Would you please provide examples?
Information about risk exposure goes into an algorithm that determines a rate depending on the exposure. In the example above, the development of rates for an art collection in coastal Florida will be different from the development of rates for the same collection in the Midwest, as the exposure to hurricanes and tornadoes differ by geography. Collectors will be encouraged to provide as much information as possible about how their collections are cared for, as providers often file rating credits or discounts for higher levels of protection.
What is the practical difference between Blanket and Scheduled coverage for collectibles?
Scheduled coverage separately describes individual collectibles to be insured, allowing them to be covered with a specified coverage amount at the time of policy issuance. At the time of loss, where description and coverage amount are pre-determined, the adjustment of the claim may not need to include further descriptions or a post-loss valuation.
Blanket coverage is based off a blanket value that covers multiple artworks and is often used to cover lower-priced valuables. While there can still be a maximum limit per item, each piece of artwork or collectible is not scheduled separately. A collector should also be aware that when an insured has blanket coverage, in the event of a loss, descriptions, and valuation will need to be established. That process could be complicated where the loss event also resulted in the loss of the documentation of the items’ descriptions and values, as insureds are usually required to demonstrate proof the item had been in their possession before the loss. An independent agent is a great resource for advice in whether scheduled or blanket coverage makes sense for a specific collection.
When a claim is made, how involved is the agent with that process or is it all handled by the provider?
Claims are typically handled by a claims adjuster employed or retained by the provider. Some agencies have a dedicated claims department and want to participate in the claims process or advocate for the client, while others prefer a lower-touch approach. Both approaches are fine, and in either scenario, communication between the agent and the provider’s claims staff is important.
Would you describe the process that occurs from when a claim is made to when the insured receives payment for the claim?
Here is a concise answer on a complicated question: The fact set of every claim is different, so a claim investigation will be designed using an individualized and collaborative approach based on the claim being made. There are certain components of every claim that must be completed. For instance, coverage needs to be analyzed and compared to the cause of loss to determine coverage, exclusions, and limits. Depending on the size and complexity of the claim, this may include obtaining documentation and/or sworn statements. The adjuster needs to evaluate the claim based on the facts, coverage, and documentation to ultimately resolve the claim. Having open communication and collaboration between all parties can expedite this process.
Is there anything else you think is important for a prospective client to know about fine art collectors’ insurance?
Purchase the right amount of insurance with a reputable, financially strong insurance provider that understands fine art insurance and the kinds of claims that typically occur.
Bottom line, an insurance provider decides to bid on insuring your collection, or not, based on the algorithm they employ for assessing risk. The data used by these companies to determine acceptable exposure include factors such as where you live, how your collection is protected, what your collection consists of, and your claims history. If you are provided a bid, the premium is based on these factors. Different companies have different risk tolerances at any one time, which is why your agent may go to three providers to get a quote and only one will offer a policy.
A provider can reduce your premium by applying discounts. Two circumstances where these discounts can apply is if you choose a higher deductible or the collection is spread between multiple buildings or locations.
The one thing stressed by each specialist I interviewed was the importance of good collection record keeping and having a digital copy of those records kept away from the collection itself, especially if you have determined a blanket policy is right for your circumstance. Connie Butler told me that when a series of powerful tornadoes struck Oklahoma City some years back, she literally sat down and cried with clients whose homes were destroyed and their personal possessions were scattered across the neighborhood. She had to explain that, because they had no proof via written inventory or photographs to document what they had in their homes, their insurance company was unable to cover a great deal of the personal property they lost.
After thoroughly researching this subject for over two months, the one thing I would stress to everyone is the importance of reading the insurance contract, front-to-back. Pay strict attention to the main section headings and subheadings of where you are in the contract as they qualify everything that follows. If you have questions about what you are reading, it is best to make notes on the areas of the policy you do not fully comprehend. Then, ask your insurance agent to explain each area of confusion until you do. If they are unable to enlighten you, it is probably time to start looking for a different agent. It is important, as with any legal document that could have such a powerful impact on your life, to fully understand it, and how it covers your possessions.
If you have read each part of this article, you probably noticed that I asked the same question to each specialist. When I did, I kept all versions because, although the answers were technically the same, each was approached differently adding interesting nuances.
To reiterate what I said at the beginning of this article, my goal in writing it was to gain a general understanding of how art collectors insurance works. Each section was reviewed multiple times for accuracy and to be sure that a layman, such as myself, would understand the basics. During the process, if I was unclear about a term or concept, I would ask questions until it was. If you now know whether you need to cover your art collection under a separate fine art collectors policy or just feel better informed about the subject, I have more than achieved what I set out to do.
As a service provided by FAE, the following informational posts cover a series of art related subjects, designed to demystify working with fine art, and tips on how best to use the FAE Website. The FAE Design Blog table of Contents has been divided into the following categories:
Please do not underestimate the importance of a proper frame for your painting or fine print. Framing is an important design decision that can either enhance or diminish your art viewing experience. The framing decisions you make will not only affect the look of the artwork and the environment into which it will be placed, but its long-term well being as well.
How the artwork will be used can inform frame choice. If it is framed for a collection or museum – because it will most likely be moved from place to place over time – the most important consideration is that the frame compliments, enhances and protects the artwork. If it is to be installed in a commercial setting where it is most likely permanently placed, in addition to helping to enhance and protect the artwork, it needs to fit in with the overall design of the room.
For your artwork to have the best chance of retaining its value, it is best to be sure that the frame shop you have chosen practices archival framing techniques. Essentially, Archival or Conservation framing means that anything used in the framing of an artwork will not damage the artwork over the long term and will, in most cases, help to protect it. This is most important with works on paper.
How to find a good Framer?
If you are working with a designer, they will most likely have several framers they regularly work with to recommend for your specific need. If you are not working with a designer, and you feel uncomfortable making this type of decision yourself, a good frame shop will normally have an experienced person on staff who can assist you in making good framing decisions.
One of the best ways to find a good framer is to contact several art galleries around your area that do not have framing departments and ask them who the best conservation framers are in the area. Although conservation framing is more expensive, the extra expense will pay off down the road.
How to help the framer help you get the most suitable frame?
For a framer to be most effective at suggesting proper frame designs for your artwork, it is best to not only take the artwork to the meeting, but to also take:
• Photos of the entire room in which the artwork will reside
• Measurements of the wall onto which the artwork is to be hung
• Information and visuals on how the artwork will be lit.
And if the artwork is to be hung over a sofa, a chest, or a fireplace mantle:
• Be sure to provide the height of the object the artwork is to be placed above
• Provide the height of the wall above the object to the ceiling molding above.
Following are a few things you may want to avoid or at least think about when choosing a frame for your artwork. I was going to call this section “Framing Don’ts” but as with just about every rule in this world, there are always exceptions.
Over-framing can relate to the disproportionately large size of a frame to the artwork it surrounds, or the inappropriate ornateness or finish of the frame related to the period, style, and subject of the artwork. Sometimes, to make a small artwork appear more significant looking, a much larger frame (or mat-and-frame combination) is employed, sometimes to the point of totally overpowering the artwork. I have seen this technique used often on late impressions of Rembrandt etchings. To make them more important looking, a small etching is surrounded by a complex frame, often 10 to 20 times the size of the actual etching.
Under-framing is when an artwork is not provided the frame it deserves. For financial and sometimes practical reasons, artists who paint in oil and acrylic on canvas will either not frame or put strip molding around the artwork to protect the artwork’s edges, assuming that the person who buys the painting will frame the work to their own specifications. Some galleries will not frame any of the work they have for sale of this type for that same reason.
The 50/50 rule
This rule pertains to the width of two-part frame assemblies, that is, a liner to its frame or a mat to its frame. The rule states that both these elements should never be perceptively the same width. So, the mat width on a fine print should never be, or look, the same width as the frame that surrounds it. If the mat was there first and it is decided that it is to be kept, the width of the frame that is chosen for the work needs to be significantly smaller or larger to feel right.
In most cases, like clothes, it is usually appropriate to dress an artwork to fit the room in which it is to be sited. This means the room will often dictate the type of frames that will be appropriate to choose for that space. It is normally inappropriate to put a driftwood frame above a Louis XV gilded commode in a period room.
Keep original frames
Frame styles change with the fashion and period in which the artwork was created. Sometimes the original frame on an artwork does not fit a contemporary space so it is decided that the frame needs to be changed. Separating a period frame from an older artwork can actually reduce the value of the artwork. If it is decided a change of frame is necessary, it is wise to store the original frame so it can be reused later.
There is a lady who owns a major American modernist painting for which the artist personally made and decorated the frame. She personally disliked the frame, so she had the painting re-framed to suit her home and the original is stored at a local art warehouse. The painting is loaned out to museum shows with great regularity and when it is, the art movers take the painting to the warehouse, change out the frame to the artist’s original frame, and send it out to the museum. When it returns, the process is reversed, and the painting is returned to her in the frame she prefers. If she had discarded the frame, she would have thrown away many thousands of dollars in value.
Designing a place to store the parts of your collection that you do not currently have on display is not as difficult as it may sound. One can either procure off site storage at a bonded fine art storage facility, or make space at home by assessing the dimensional space the art will take up that is currently resting and building rack spaces that are designed to safely accommodate it, taking into account your future needs.
Rather than provide a “do this for this situation” scenario, I thought it better to show the solutions we devised to store art in our home and gallery. These storage solutions have served us well and can be adapted to fit most any circumstance. They range from a large painting storage built into a living space and a framed works on paper storage in a closet in our home, to public and behind the scenes storage in our gallery.
Visible Large Painting Storage:
We had more large paintings than we had room for in the gallery, so we built large painting storage at the end of a room that was originally an artist studio. The storage had to be functional and a decorative element in the space. It also had to be easily removable if we decided not to store works there in the future.
Since our house is in a flood zone, we created a plinth to put the artworks on and designed drawers on rollers that would fit within the body of the plinth, as deep as the plinth itself. The drawers hold plastic tubs for storage. We used 2 5/8 inch galvanized chain link fence posts for the vertical supports and a smaller diameter 1 5/8 inch of the same material to support the shelves.
The plinth was built in individual sections and the vertical support pipes were designed to be easily removed. In fact, if in a hurry, the pipes and plinth can be removed by two people in about two hours. We used carpet on top of the plinth to protect the frames and edges of the artwork. So that we could minimize the visual clutter of the artwork and fluted cardboard separators, we had motorized white scrims added that can hide the artwork from view when wanted.
Built-In Storage in a Walk-In Closet
To store a collection of framed small works on paper, we had shelves built into a walk-in closet located in an unused bedroom.
Since most of the framed works were small in scale, we did not need extra strong supports. A system of 3/4 inch high grade plywood boxes were built and the sides were drilled so the shelves could be supported with shelf support pegs. To keep the temperature and airflow appropriate for works on paper, we had an HVAC register installed in the closet (shown below) and used louver doors that acts as a return (shown above). Since the house is adequately secure, we were not concerned about security here other than keeping honest people out.
We used foam core separators for this rack space as it is less likely to scuff antique frames than regular cardboard. It does not matter if the artworks extend beyond the front of the end of the shelf, as long as the separators are cut to accommodate the extension and there is enough room opposite the shelf for the artworks to be removed with ease. Make sure that all framed works on paper will fit the rack spaces in their upright configuration, as they should never be stored sideways or upside down.
The carpet is cut pile and the front of each shelf, in this case 3/4 inch plywood, has been rounded so the carpet can be wrapped to form a soft bumper.
Holes were drilled all around the supports so four shelf support pegs can hold each shelf wherever needed. The holes for the shelf support pegs need to be drilled close to the front edge of the box sides as shown below.
Unframed Works on Paper Storage in a Public Gallery Space
We cleaned up a poorly used closet off one of our gallery spaces and turned it into a works on paper storage and viewing space.
We built shelves for thirty 16 x 20, fifteen 20 x 24, and sixteen 24 x 30 standard sized archival boxes to store unframed works on paper the gallery has in inventory.
The three pull out shelves designed into the cabinet allow easy handling of the boxes and serves as a platform to show artworks to clients.
Although the shelves are thin, they can handle the weight of a fully laden box because the weight is spread out across the entire shelf and the box is supported around the shelve’s edges.
This system of shelves can easily be designed to fit most anywhere. For instance, if there was no room anywhere else in the house for storage, a sculpture stand could be made on wheels with shelves on one side allowing the unit to be turned against the wall to hide the boxes from view. About the only place this type of box should not be placed is on the floor, especially under a bed. (Artworks should never be stored under a bed.)
Housing Artworks In Gallery Storage Areas
At Valley House, the main storage area is not open to the public like in some galleries. Because of this, the racks are designed for function, not looks.
The racks on this aisle are designed to handle mid-sized artworks. The depth of the rack on the left is 54 inches deep. This depth was accomplished by designing 48 inch deep racks and moving them off the wall by 6 inches. The 54 inch depth was chosen to allow a 48 inch wide painting with a large frame to fit the rack properly. All the separators are 54 inches deep and hit the back wall to keep the artworks properly separated so they don’t scrape against each other when moved in and out. The aisle between the racks is 56 inches wide. This is so that, a painting can be pulled straight out of the rack without being obstructed by the opposing rack.
There are three 2 x 4’s that make up each of this rack’s vertical support sections. Supports are on 24 inch centers so each shelf, made of carpeted 3/4 inch plywood, has 22 1/2 inches of usable space. This narrow shelf width will support most any two dimensional artwork that is placed on it.
The shelves in this section are held up by one of two types of support. The first is a 1 inch wood dowel that is slipped into a 1 inch hole drilled through the side of each of the shelves’ 2 x 4 supports. It was drilled taking into account the ultimate height of the shelf. Depending on the length of the dowel, it can either go through the 2 x 4 and stop on the other side or stick out on both sides to provide support to the shelf next to it.
The second type is a 1 x 2 inch stick, cut to the width of the 2 x 4. Here it is drilled with counter sunk pilot holes and then affixed to the support with sheet rock screws at the height needed. A 48 inch long 1 x 2 could have been used instead of the shorter ones if more support was necessary.
In the same storage space, seen below is a rack designed for smaller scale framed works. The structure is the same as the larger racks but this section is only 30 inches deep. Because the shelves have to support less weight, they are supported with a KV shelf support system.
The 2 x 4 supports have been routed to allow the KV clip rails to be flush with the surface of the 2 x 4. This allows the shelves to properly fit between their supports.
I hope these art storage solutions are helpful and inspire a plan to build proper storage for artworks that are on sabbatical. Long term storage of artworks haphazardly stacked in a closet, or worse, under a bed is asking for trouble.
Following is a List of Things to Think About While You are Planning a Storage System for Your Collection.
Determine if you want on or off-site storage
Determine if you want other people to see your storage area as it may make a difference on how you want the racks finished out.
Determine how much storage you need now and project how much you will need in the future, considering what you are collecting and your collecting history.
Determine if you need climate-controlled storage for what you are collecting; works on paper will need it, but ceramics may not. If you are not sure, consult a conservator in the field you are collecting.
Be sure that the width of the rack you design is, or is less than, 1/2 of the distance to whatever immovable object is in front of it, whether it is another facing rack or a wall.
Be sure that you consider the weight of the artworks you are planning to store and determine if the structure you are designing will support that weight comfortably.
With that in mind, be sure the distance between the vertical supports is not too great when designing your racks. Remember that with every inch of extra distance between the vertical supports their is space for another artwork. This extra weight may cause the shelf to bow and eventually fail. A shelf made from 3/4 inch plywood that is expected to support large glazed artworks should not be any wider than 24 inches. To support really heavy works, there is nothing wrong with laminating two shelves together.
Always use cut pile carpet on a shelf rather than closed loop. The loops can catch on the edges of a frame or cause a wood frame to splinter while an artwork is being slid in or pulled out.
The separators used should be either foam core, fluted cardboard, or pure fluted polypropylene sheet. Acid free fluted cardboard would be a preference over regular but is not always practical. (Be sure to slide artworks slowly back and forth into their rack space. This will help slow what I call “rack rash.”)
It is important that, whatever type is chosen, all separators properly fit the depth and height of the rack. They should minimally stretch from the back of the rack or back stop to the front of the rack in length and be about 1/2 inch below the shelf above it in height. (Please do not use separators that are not the right depth. You may not know when a short separator is not properly protecting the artwork next to it and damage can easily happen when a work is moved in and out.)
It is always a good idea to provide movable shelf supports so they can be moved when wanted. However, it is my experience that once you have established heights for each shelf and have cut separators to the proper size, you will most likely not move the shelf heights again.
So, you have decided to paint the living room. While the workers do their thing, you have determined that the furniture can be moved to the center of the room and be protected via drop cloth, but where and how should you temporarily store your art for the next two weeks while the paint dries? Temporarily Storing your Artwork, A Case Study will help you decide.
As with my post on transporting an artwork in your car, I will make suggestions on how to temporarily store artwork by safely stacking two-dimensional works against a wall using protective materials that would be found in your home or could be picked up at a local U-LINE, Lowes, or Home Depot. If you are lucky to live with museum quality works, you might want to call an art moving company to carefully pack and move them to a bonded climate-controlled storage facility and read no further. If your artworks are not of museum quality, carefully stacking them against a wall and providing protection at any points of contact can work just as well.
Deciding Where Your Artwork Should Be Stored
Choose a climate-controlled space to store your art. One of the best storage spaces might be a rarely used guest bedroom where the artworks are out of normal traffic patterns and the door can be shut to keep out roaming pets. A deadbolt lock installed on the door would also keep out wandering “guests.”
Since many homes these days have climate zoned spaces so you are not senselessly air conditioning rarely used areas, if the “guest bedroom” you are planning to use is not in a frequently used zone, be sure to adjust that zone’s temperature a day or two before you are planning to move the artwork. This will allow its temperature to normalize to the rest of the house and confirm that the HVAC equipment is working properly. Remember the main things to worry about are temperature, humidity, and airflow. The atmosphere of the storage space should be close to the living room they came out of.
Find a wall where the largest artwork you are storing will fit so its entire top frame edge is fully resting against it. If the artwork is not a work on paper and not hinged, it can be place in any orientation, so its smallest side should be leaning against the wall. If it is a glazed work on paper and/or hinged, it needs to always be kept upright. If you have many artworks, they can be divided into multiple stacks, especially if there is a lot of weight involved or a large size differential between artworks. It is often a good idea to group the works in general size categories, like large, medium, and small, and stack them accordingly.
If there is a bed in the room, place an old sheet over its bedspread and then lay the smaller works face up across the bed so they are not touching each other. The sheet will keep your bedspread from getting dirty from dusty frame backs. Although for the short term it is not necessary, if you are concerned about dust, cover the artworks loosely with a thin clear plastic drop cloth so anyone entering the room can see that there is artwork covering the bed.
Since water leaks do happen, I highly recommend placing something on the floor to stack the artworks on. This could be a couple of 2 x 4 boards placed perpendicular to the wall and far enough apart so the artworks straddle them comfortably, or setting a folded fold-up table on the floor against the wall and placing a rubber backed bathmat on it so the artworks will not slide on the table top.
Do not stack the artwork over or in front of an HVAC register or return. It is alright to stack the works next to a return but not a vent that would blow hot or cold air directly onto the artwork. Be especially careful of large light canvases, as they can easily be blown over if a vent is blowing air behind a leaning work.
Note: As these artworks may have been hanging in your living room for a very long time, take the opportunity, as each is taken down, to dust the backside of their frames before moving them to where they will be stored.
Preparing and Properly Stacking Your Artworks
The type of artwork and how it is framed will determine how it should be stacked against a wall. In an ideal situation each artwork would be properly wrapped for its type and how it is framed, and then each would be boxed or at least separated by a sheet of fluted cardboard, foam core, sheet insulation or other type of light stiff separator. Since we are talking about stacking the artwork against a wall for a couple of weeks, following a few rules of thumb will achieve pretty much the same outcome without all the packing. So, here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to prepare and stack your artworks.
Create a Working Inventory
Create an inventory of the works you will be moving to your designated storage space. Index cards work well here as they can be put in the order they will be moved and stacked. Be sure that along with the information that identifies each artwork, you include the artworks’ total framed dimensions, including their depth. Also note if any of the artworks’ supports are paper and are glazed as this will normally indicate that they must be stacked upright. You may want to circle the hinged artworks, showing you cannot change their orientation the way you can, in most cases, with an oil on canvas or panel. The cards should be sorted so that the largest work is on top and the smallest is on the bottom.
Note: As opposed to the way almost everything else in the universe is measured, artworks are measured using height before width, and then depth.
Take a tape measure to the space you are planning to store the works and make sure that the largest artwork will fit the available wall space considering its proper orientation.
Using Risers to Raise Artwork Above the Floor Level
To determine the length of the risers that will keep the artworks off the floor, let’s say they are 2 x 4 boards, add up all the depth measurements on the cards you anticipate will be in the largest stack and add 12 inches to account for the separators if you are planning to use them. Also consider the angle against the wall of the first artwork in the stack. It does not matter if the boards are a bit too long, you just don’t want them to be too short. The risers should be placed perpendicular to the wall and far enough apart so the smallest artwork in the stack will sit on top of them. If the frames are fragile, you may want to cut two 3.5-inch strips off one of your separators and place it on the 2 x 4 risers before you start stacking artworks.
General Rules for Stacking
As a general rule, artworks should be stacked in a graduated order with the largest against the wall and the smallest being the last work added. If the first work placed is facing the wall and it is backed or has stretcher braces, it may have a smaller work stacked against it.
If the artwork is not backed or has stretcher braces, each new work that is added to the stack, whether using sheet separators or not, should either match or exceed its predecessor in either height or width, not both. This way, it will span an unprotected canvas and have at least two points of contact at the top, or upper sides of its frame.
Using Separator Sheets to Protect Artworks
As mentioned above, it is always best to use separators between each artwork in a stack. I would recommend sheets of fluted cardboard, foam core, sheet insulation or other type of light stiff separator material. For each artwork added to the stack, place a separator sheet that is larger than the work it is placed in front of. That does not mean that it needs to be cut down to fit, it just means that the sheet should not be smaller.
Note: Do not use soft materials to cover or wrap artworks such as blankets or sheets unless they are all glazed and backed works. Cotton blankets would be preferred over wool, especially if the artworks are pastels. Pastels should never be stored with their faces at a forward angle or face down. It would be best to place a glazed pastel, face up, on a bed.
If you have more artworks than separator sheets, the face-to-face, back-to-back method of stacking may be appropriate. That means you should start your stack with a separator sheet against the wall and then place the first artwork, so it faces the wall and the top of its frame is in contact with the separator sheet and not with the wall. The second artwork should be placed, using the “at least two points of contact” rule, with its back to the first work. Then place a separator sheet against the face of the second work and repeat the process.
Stacking Without Separator Sheets
If you are planning on stacking without separator sheets, certainly not recommended by me, you have to be extra careful how and where each artwork makes contact with the artwork in front and behind it, and the “at least two points of contact rule” needs to be strictly adhered to. Also, if their weight and center of gravity is not a problem, they should, in most cases, be stacked face-to-face and back-to-back. When stacking, the artworks that are placed back-to-back should be touching all around. The works that are stacked face-to-face should not touch except at two upper points of contact. Where the frames touch, two folded washcloths can be used as protection by laying them over the frame where the contact is made.
Note: While works are stacked this way, they should remain undisturbed until they are unstacked to be reinstalled. Do not pull several works in the stack forward to show off a work, and under no circumstances pull a work from the center of the stack. If a work is needed, carefully unstack the works back to that artwork.
The Issue of Weight
Weight is a factor that may determine how many works should be in each stack. Large glazed works with heavy frames weigh a lot. You may not want to place any more than three or four works in a stack of artworks like this. Canvases with strip molding may not weigh a lot and therefore it might be realistic to stack more. Bottom line; you don’t want to stack so many artworks together that a single person could lose control of it if they were supporting it while another person was flipping through the artworks.
Determining an Artwork’s Center of Gravity
You will need to determine the center of gravity for the first artwork that starts a stack and ideally, each artwork that follows as they are placed. This can be determined by setting each artwork vertically on the floor in the orientation it will be stacked. It will normally want to fall forward or back depending on its center of gravity. (Whichever way it wants to fall, that is the side that should face the wall.) This means that if you are using separators between each artwork, they should be stacked in the direction that they would naturally fall. Works that do not easily fall one way or the other have a neutral center of gravity so they can be safely stacked either way.
Properly Setting the Angle of the First Artwork
The angle at which the first artwork is placed against the wall in a stack is very important! If the angle is too little, even if you have determined that its center of gravity will tend for it to naturally hug the wall, it sets up a situation where if other artworks are not stacked properly, it could allow the stack to fall. On the other hand, if the angle is too much, it will place undue stress on the stack because with every degree of extra angle added, the stack becomes progressively heavier with the first artwork that started the stack bearing the greatest weight. Also, instead of the possibility of the artworks that are stacked with too narrow an angle falling over, too much of an angle could cause the artworks at the end of the stack to start sliding out from the bottom. Also, the change of angle related to the height of the artwork also must be considered.
It is best to keep these issues in mind when determining how far the bottom of the first artwork should be away from the wall when setting the stack. Unfortunately, there is no formula that I know of that is a standard rule of thumb to determine the perfect angle, especially with all the unknown variables when you start. So, the best I can do is let you know how I do it:
I place the top of the first artwork so the side to which it naturally wants to fall is against the separator sheet that is leaning against the wall and its bottom is sitting on the riser about 4 inches away from the wall. I then pull the top of the artwork away from the wall about an inch to feel the weight of its resistance. If it seems too little, I will move the artwork’s bottom away from the wall another inch and try again until it feels right. If it seems like it is heavy or has too much resistance, I would move the artwork’s bottom toward the wall an inch and try again until the resistance feels right. Then I continue stacking other artworks between separators until I think stacking more would endanger the first artwork or make the stack unstable. I test the resistance of each added artwork as it is placed to be sure it is properly weighted towards the previously stacked work.
I focused on a guest bedroom as a good place to store artworks for this post because most guest bedrooms are properly climate controlled and rarely entered, making them an ideal location for storing artwork. Remember, because of change orders or unexpected issues that pop up during most any renovation project, they are rarely finished on time. For this reason, it is best to store your artworks where they will not be disturbed until they are ready to be put back on the wall. Having to unstack the artwork and move it to a safer location and then restack it will unnecessarily put the artwork in danger.
I hope you have found the information in this post helpful. Although I have mentioned a way to stack the artworks without using separators, I recommend using them. They will provide a higher level of protection to both the artwork and frames, especially if there is a situation where the stack falls over for some reason.
If your storage needs exceed the short term, you may have interest in reading my post, Four Artwork Storage Solutions. In the meantime, happy stacking.
Artworks are often at their most vulnerable when they are in transit, especially if the person who is transporting them is inexperienced. So to ease the stress and anxiety of doing so, I though I would share some practical tips for safely transporting artwork in your own vehicle.
For this post, I thought it would be helpful to offer some suggestions as to how to safely transport a single two-dimensional artwork in a personal vehicle. As most people do not have professional packing supplies at home, I will focus on using household items such as blankets, large garbage bags and pillows to be used sensibly in protecting the artwork when it is placed in the automobile.
All the suggestions I have made below come from over 45 years of experience in packing artwork in just about every type of vehicle, and from seeing how artworks have been delivered to us by non-professionals. Every situation is different and none of the suggestions I am making will protect the artwork or you in a serious accident. These suggestions are just “guidelines.”
Will it Fit?
It may sound rudimentary, but whether you are taking an artwork from home to another location or heading out to pick up a new acquisition from a gallery, it is always a good idea to measure the artwork and the space in your vehicle where you are planning on securing it, to see if it will comfortably fit. Also, where it will be placed in the vehicle, the type of artwork, and how it is framed will all determine if it needs to be wrapped, and if so, what level of protection is required. Once that is determined, take that overall packed size into account when measuring.
If you are picking up an artwork, say from a gallery, remember that if it is framed, the size of the artwork documented on the bill of sale or in the catalog of the show is the actual artwork size, not its overall framed size. Call the galley and ask them to measure the overall size of the artwork before driving across town to find out that it will not fit in your vehicle. Also, it’s not a bad idea to let the preparator of the gallery know where you are planning to place the artwork in your vehicle, and where, so they can pack it accordingly and then provide you with its overall packed size before you leave to pick it up.
Is it Safe?
Be sure to think about where the artwork is being placed in the vehicle and what will happen if you must maneuver quickly left or right, slam on the breaks, or worse, get hit by another vehicle. Is it packed and placed in the car in such a way that, if any of these things happen, you and others will be safe from its movement? Will the artwork sustain minimal damage because of how it is packed?
It is important to remove any loose objects from the space in which the artwork is to be placed for travel unless the object is being used as part of the bracing or packing process. We must often move tennis rackets, golf clubs, gym bags and other things from a client’s trunk or back seat before placing an artwork inside their vehicle.
It is best not to take a pet along with you when you transport art. If you must, be sure they are restrained or not able to get into the area where the artwork is placed. I have seen both cats and dogs happily prance across an unprotected canvas in the back of a vehicle. The attention you are paying to your driving will diminish greatly if “Fluffy” decides to take a walk across your newly purchased Monet waterlily painting while you are changing lanes on a freeway.
Preparing Artwork for Transport
I am assuming for this post that you are not planning to wrap the artwork with anything other a plastic trash bag. Most galleries are happy to wrap a work in bubble wrap or other appropriate material if they know you are coming. Most of the suggestions I offer here can be modified to take into account a wrapped work.
Be sure that if you wrap a framed and glazed artwork on paper in an opaque material so you are unable to tell which side of the artwork is up, that you mark it in some way to identify its face and top. A face drawn on the front of the package or a piece of painter’s tape with “TOP” written on it works well. Works on paper need to be carried with the hinges at the top so they do not tear or pull free because they were carried sideways. In the business, when a hinge pulls free separating the work on paper from where it was mounted, we say that the artwork “slipped its hinge.” A phrase every dealer hates to hear.
So, here are several common ways two-dimensional artworks are normally transported in a personal vehicle and my suggestions on the best way to protect them using household materials.
Transporting an Artwork in a Trunk
If your trunk is empty and your artwork comfortably fits; if your destination is not far and you are traveling without other stops; if it is not raining and the temperature is not too extreme; then the carpeted trunk of an automobile is the ideal place for an artwork to travel and you will probably not need to have it wrapped at all. Since it is separated from you and your passengers, it is also the safest way.
If the artwork is not glazed and does not fit snugly, place an open blanket on the bottom of the trunk so the area where the artwork will sit is completely flat. Place the artwork on top of the flat area of the blanket and roll under the outer edges of the blanket like a jelly roll so they form a barrier around the artwork as illustrated below. Make sure the furthest edge of the artwork is resting against the far end of the trunk, closest to the back seat. This will pad all the artwork’s sides and keep it from quickly sliding forward and banging into the back of the trunk during a quick stop. It is my recommendation to never place a blanket over an unglazed work, especially if the artwork’s support is stretched canvas.
Note: About one in every three people who bring artworks to the gallery cover or wrap them in a blanket thinking they are protecting their artwork and its frame if it has one. This is not much of an issue if the artwork is glazed and the glazing is intact. However, if it is an old unglazed oil on stretched canvas that is starting to flake, laying a heavy blanket on it can cause expensive-to-repair damage. For instance, the weight of the blanket can push down on the canvas causing it to become concave and stressed. The act of placing a blanket on the work and taking it off can cause any dry impasto or already damaged areas to flake off. It can also break off partially secured areas of a fragile frame.
If the artwork is glazed with glass, a blanket can be place beneath and around the artwork as previously described. If more protection is needed, a soft blanket can also be laid over the artwork and folded around it. If an over blanket is used, remove it before picking up the artwork to be sure it is carried upright.
Note: Always carry an artwork upright facing you, holding it with two hands from both sides. It is not a good idea to carry it from the top of the frame, and it is best not to carry it around by its hanging wire if it has one. You are making a lot of assumptions by doing so and you have much less control over the artwork.
If the artwork is glazed with plexiglass and you believe it needs to be covered with a blanket for extra protection, put a plastic bag over it first followed by the blanket, wrapping it around the edges of the frame. This will prevent the plexiglass from being scratched by the blanket. If it is raining, you might want to place the artwork in the plastic bag making sure to identify the front and top of the artwork by marking it somehow before taking it to your vehicle.
Transporting an Artwork in the Back Seat.
Transporting artworks in the back seat area of an automobile is not optimal for many reasons but sometimes, because of an artwork’s size and the circumstances, it is all that’s available. So, if it is the only option, here are my recommendations to transport the artwork as safely as possible. When doing so, please drive like you have a baby in the back seat.
All automobiles are a little different. You can measure to determine that an artwork will fit in between the front and back seats, but there are other factors to consider, and one of them is the artwork’s depth. The back door at its fully open position, window down, may not allow an artwork of your measured size to fit past the back seat, and the drivetrain hump in the middle of the back seat floorboard may be an issue. Remember, the designers of your automobile’s back doors thought only about people’s ability to get in and out, they did not care, nor even think about, your need to transport artwork.
Again, be sure that the back seat and floorboards are clear of any loose objects. It is not a good idea to have a loose bowling ball sitting on the back seat behind an artwork.
Transporting a Small Artwork in the Back Seat Area
A small work is best placed on the floorboard facing forward on either side of the drivetrain hump if the vehicle has one. It should be placed at an angle where the bottom of the frame touches the front seat back, and the artwork’s top back side leans against the front of the back seat. To protect the bottom of the frame from any hard surfaces behind the front seat, something needs to be used as a buffer. If the car has floor mats, push the mat forward and curl it up to protect the bottom of the frame where it sits against the back of the front seat. If it doesn’t, a rolled towel will do the trick.
I recommend that smaller works not be placed on the back seat itself, either upright or flat, unless there is something between the front and back seats that will keep the work from falling to the floorboard in a sudden stop. If there is something there that is about the same height of the seat, like a soft gym bag, then a medium size artwork can be placed flat on the rear seat extending over the built-up space between the front and back seats.
Transporting a Medium Sized Artwork in the Back Seat Area
Most often, a larger work will need to be placed between the front and back seats, facing forward. After you know that the artwork will fit, there are four contact points that need to be considered. Also, if the artwork is a hinged work on paper in a vertical format, for reasons we discussed earlier, do not turn it sideways to get it to fit.
Contact Point One: The Front Edge of the Back Seat
Glazed works on paper are most often backed and therefore, a medium sized work on paper can ride with its back side against the back seat, so long as any exposed hardware will not potentially cause damage to your back seat upholstery. A blanket hanging over the glazed artwork can prevent this. (Remember to bag the piece if it is glazed with Plexiglas and mark its face and top before putting a blanket over it.)
A framed or unframed stretched canvas that does not have a backing may be at risk, depending on the design of your vehicle’s back seat. If the seat has a convex shape or has areas that protrude, it may push into the back of the canvas, stretching it out of shape. This is less likely if the canvas has a vertical stretcher brace down the middle that will rest against the seat, keeping the seat from touching the canvas. Without that brace, even if the artwork is packed in bubble wrap, it may be at greater risk from the convex back seat as it could push the bubble into the back of the canvas, placing even more pressure on it.
If no brace is present, there needs to be a flat support behind the artwork, or something else, protecting it from the front of the back seat. The support can be a piece or corrugated (fluted) cardboard, foam insulation, or other stiff material cut to the same size or a little larger than the overall artwork. If these materials are not available, a properly folded blanket can hold the artwork off the seat back to prevent damage to the canvas.
If no flat material is available, roll a blanket from two sides so the distance between the rolls matches the back of the stretcher and the artwork’s frame, and then hang the blanket over the edge of the back seat so it provides a buffer that will keep the canvas from touching the front edge of the back seat.
Contact Point Two: The Floorboard, the Drivetrain Hump, and the Console
The next thing to think about is where the bottom front edge of the artwork meets the bottom of the front seat or the back of the console that divides the two front seats. A floor mat, a rolled-up towel or a piece of clothing can act as a protective buffer to hold the artwork in place and protect it from any metal or hard plastic parts under the front seat or the back of the console. If the artwork is now balancing on the drivetrain hump, you can roll towels or two strips of bubble wrap and place them under each corner to keep the artwork from listing over one way or the other while driving.
Contact Point Three: Protecting the Front of the Artwork.
In a sudden stop or head-on accident, the entire artwork will try to move forward. If it is wrapped in bubble and has a stiff sheet material in front of it like 3/4 inch foam insulation, corrugated cardboard, or foam core, it will sustain less damage than it would without it. If the artwork is glazed with glass, the bubble pack would help contain any broken glass shards. Since we are talking primarily about using household materials, if it is glazed with glass, a blanket over the entire work that is tucked in under the bottom of the frame near each bottom corner, to keep it from tilting back and forth on the hump, is a good idea.
Contact Point Four: Protecting the Sides of the Artwork
After the artwork has been placed safely into the back between the front and back seats, lower both back windows and close both back doors carefully to be sure they do not hit the artwork or its frame. If there is room, snug blankets or pillows on either side of the artwork and doors through the open windows so the artwork will not slide side to side while the vehicle is turning. Roll the windows up and you’re set to go.
Transporting a Large Artwork Flat in the Back of an SUV.
It is always a good idea to know the maximum usable rectangular dimension of the back of your SUV with the back seats down. So you will only have to measure that once, write these dimensions on the underside of the hatch door next to the auto close button if you have one, with an indelible marker.
The advantage of laying almost any two-dimensional artwork flat on its back is that, if the entire back of the artwork is touching a flat surface, the artwork and the entire frame assembly housing it are all experiencing the least amount of stress possible. Also, while in transit, you don’t have to worry which side is up on a hinged work on paper as it really doesn’t matter when it is in this position.
If the work is not packed, set the artwork face up so that the edge of the frame is touching the back of the driver and passenger seats. This way it will not slide forward and hit them in a sudden stop. Placing the artwork on a flat blanket and rolling the sides up to the frame will also protect the artwork’s edges if it slides. A folded blanket behind the artwork will help keep it from sliding back when accelerating. As discussed above, be sure there are no loose objects at the back of the SUV that might slide forward onto the artwork in a sudden stop.
If you want the artwork hidden, and it is a work on paper glazed with glass, a single layer of blanket can be placed over the artwork to hide it. If it is glazed with Plexiglas, it would be better not to use a blanket but instead, place a bed sheet over the work so it does not scratch. If it is an unglazed framed or unframed canvas and the paint is completely dry, a single layer of a light plastic opaque drop cloth is a good solution. Be sure that when it is removed, it is not dragged across the artworks surface but is carefully lifted off.
If you are concerned about moving an artwork yourself, get several quotes from professional art moving companies. Even though they are generally more expensive than furniture moving companies, they carry the proper packing and securing materials on their trucks. Every time we have had furniture movers pick up art at our gallery for various design projects, they have never brought large stiff sheets of foam core or corrugated cardboard to separate or pack artworks with them on their trucks. They only have blankets and stretch wrap. We have often had to loan them the proper materials and diplomatically explain how to use them. They are skilled at blanket wrapping almost any piece of furniture, but you don’t want your fragile unglazed Jackson Pollock to be blanket wrapped and then tied up to the side of a truck. You will be spending a lot of time and money with your conservator if you let that happen.
Properly siting sculpture outdoors is a process that requires many considerations. In this article titled, Siting Sculpture: Part Two, A Case Study, I will introduce 8 categories of issues that may, or may not affect the decision on where and how an artwork is to be placed. As most every artwork is different, each category will play a greater or lesser role in this process.
My stepmother Erika Farkac ran the Design Department of Lambert Landscape Company, once considered the finest landscaping company in Texas, for over 20 years and then worked independently for another 22. She once told me that in every garden design she created while at Lambert’s, she always included a space for a properly sited sculpture. She also said that only about one in a hundred design clients actually used that space for a sculpture, other than occasionally installing a fountain or something in concrete. So, when a client used the space she provided for a sculpture, to her, it was a small victory.
As I did in Siting Sculpture, Part One, I have listed 8 categories to think about when deciding where to place a sculpture. Each can affect the viewer or the sculpture itself and all will affect every artwork installation in varying degrees. And by making sure that one of the categories is as good as it can be under the circumstances, this may necessitate paying more attention to the others. It is really about finding the best balance of the most important categories for each situation.
For example, a 5-inch-tall sculpture made of plastic that is sitting on a 40-inch stand against a wall may not be much of a safety risk in a home, but in a public place, it is a huge security risk. A 5-ton piece of steel with sharp edges and no barriers around it sitting in a retail mall hallway may not be a security risk, but it is a huge safety risk for those who may accidentally collide with it. Awareness and thinking through all the issues is what makes for a sculpture’s best overall placement.
Most Designers will be thinking primarily about the first three categories on the list as they deal mostly with aesthetics. The other categories are more practical in nature and the ask is: “By placing a sculpture here, what can, and what will happen to it over time.”
As an example, I will use an image from the first blog of an outdoor sculpture, sited in front of a modern house, to discuss how each of the categories apply or why they are not overly important in this circumstance.
First off, I have to say I really like the concept of putting a large round bronze sculpture in front of this modern home that is all about rectilinear form. Although it stands alone as a sculpture, it more importantly acts as a foil for the hard edges of the building behind while adding an appropriate shape to the building’s geometry.
As you can see, the owners of this house decided to site the sculpture in the front yard. They lined it up with the front window of the house so it could be easily seen from inside, and the other side could be seen from the street with the house as a backdrop.
It was also installed to sit in the grass with its supporting base hidden below ground. By doing this, to an observer, the sculpture appears to be balancing miraculously on its edge. One of the best street views is where the photograph above is taken because of the square section of the house that serves as a background here.
The wall to the left of the large window is also a nice background. It would be seen behind the sculpture as a visitor walks down the portico to the front door. As the viewer heads towards the door, a kinetic illusion is created as the sculpture appears to roll away and get bigger in relation to the long wall behind it.
Three lighting fixtures were arranged in a row to light the street side of the artwork. They were placed above ground and their color was chosen to blend in with the artwork. With this installation, I would have recommended that the lights be recessed into the ground and that there be three more lights on the backside so the work could be seen at night from the house.
Because the three existing fixtures were placed above ground and focused up and slightly back to illuminate the street side of the sculpture properly, anyone looking out the window at night will see nothing but shadow and glare from the lights on the street side of the sculpture. There would be no glare from any of the lights and the sculpture would be well lit if all the lights had been installed below ground level.
The surroundings for this sculpture are very good. During the day, nothing is obstructing the view of the sculpture and it is easily visible from all directions. Because there are no paths to, or near the sculpture, the closest view is from the portico unless you venture off into the yard. The sculpture appears isolated, floating in the front yard’s sea of green grass. The only oddness is the three lights poking up, interrupting the space around the sculpture.
Since there are no barriers, it can be approached by animals looking for a place to mark or relieve themselves, or humans that want to get a closer look who will unintentionally wear paths in the grass. This type of sculpture, sited in a location like this, is what I call “Selfie Bait.” With no barriers for protection, it is an open invitation for people to climb inside the ring to mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man for an Instagram post.
This artwork will be in full sun most of the day and will be exposed to all the elements the weather can throw at it. Over time, if it is a waxed bronze, left alone, its brown patina will slowly turn green.
Most people would be concerned that an artwork in such a public space would be stolen. This is always a possibility, but if it’s insured, I would not be overly concerned. The pleasure of living with it and sharing it with my neighbors would trump my concerns if it was mine. There is also the possibility of vandalism, or even neighborhood kids, flying drones through it or using it as a target for any number of ball games.
Because of the hazards and inconsiderate people mentioned above, the connection between the base and the sculpture itself needs to be strong enough to have a 200 plus pound person climb and swing from it. The area of the base itself needs to be large and heavy enough to withstand this kind of abuse. You don’t want a child to get hurt because it fell on them. It is also a good idea to check that your liability insurance is paid up.
Most every sculpture, especially those placed outside, will need occasional maintenance. In this case, a bronze sculpture with this level of exposure to the elements would need to be washed off and waxed at least once a year to maintain its patination. As mentioned earlier, depending on the composition of the bronze used, it will start turning green fairly quickly when the wax has been worn off by the elements.
The idea of having the siting of this sculpture create the illusion that it is balanced on its edge is conceptually appealing. However, having it, or any artwork for that matter, sit directly on grass is a maintenance nightmare unless you have your own private gardener who is willing to hand clip the grass around it once a week during the growing season, or you are willing to do it yourself. In time, a maintenance crew, that may change from week to week, with weed whackers can do serious damage to both the artwork and the lights next to it.
I would have recommended that they skip the idea of balancing the work on the grass and set the work on a brick or concrete base that would accommodate the lights inside it. This way, it would be easy to keep the grass trimmed and the work would not be accidentally damaged by the landscaping crews in the process.
A less expensive option would have been to place the artwork in a bed of ground cover. This maintains a natural setting for the sculpture but protects it from most types of mechanical damage. And if the ground cover was cactus, it would keep unwanted intruders away, but unfortunately, make that yearly waxing a challenge.
The design of this sculpture, and where it is sited, make it immune to most types of natural or man-caused disasters. In its current location, high winds and lightning are its most likely issues but in Dallas, Texas, fire, earthquake, and flood are probably not going to be issues. Because this sculpture has very little surface area for its size, high winds are probably not going to be an issue outside of a direct hit by a F5 tornado and there would be a low risk of a lightning strike. It is actually more likely, that this sculpture will be hit by an out of control automobile than be damaged by any of these other issues, but it is a good idea to think through what could happen for each proposed location.
As it was with my stepmother, I am also pleased to see a house where sculpture has become part of the landscape plan, especially when a work is shared with the community by being placed in a front yard. This is a brave and possibly dangerous act, however. The neighbors probably don’t care about the house next door having a sculpture in their back yard where it is not on public view, but they may not like the fact that their neighbor has decided to impose their taste on them by placing a sculpture in their front yard, where it is visible to all who pass by. It is not a bad idea to keep the neighbors in the loop if you feel the sculpture you are planning to put in a publicly viewed space might be controversial.
If you are not comfortable placing sculpture yourself, be sure to enlist the help of a professional art installation company to work with you to site the piece properly. Many of these companies employ artists and they will be sensitive to your needs and the needs of the work. It is not a bad idea to run through the list of items above with installers to be sure that all the issues are considered before a placement is finalized.
I have been an art dealer now for over 45 years who has been privileged to live and work in a 4-acre sculpture garden, envisioned by my parents, Donald and Margaret Vogel in 1959. As most of the artwork in the garden is consigned by artists and is for sale, it changes with some regularity. As new work arrives decisions must be made as to each sculpture’s siting, presentation, and other important considerations. To share some ideas about what I have discovered about this subject, I have written two posts. The first is titled: Siting Sculpture, Part One: Overview.
The garden is modern and informal with winding paths, a large pond, and is normally accessible to the public when the gallery is open. Exhibitions of sculpture in the gallery often extend out into the garden. Although for sale, sculptures in the garden are not labeled or priced, and are intentionally installed to look like they were placed permanently.
I am betting that for your residential clients you are rarely asked to help with sculpture placement indoors, and almost never outdoors. Unless it is already owned, sculpture is not normally thought of until all the two-dimensional works have been placed on the walls of a home or office.
Among other posts, I will be writing a series of articles related to sculpture placement both inside and outside the home and office, covering tips and ideas that might be useful to you when helping your clients place sculpture. Although some issues are unique to location, many considerations are the same and can be applied accordingly. Below are a few of the things to consider when placing sculpture.
After determining a likely location for a sculpture, look for any unacceptable physical barriers or impeded sight-lines that obstruct access to the artwork.
This category encompasses the sculptures physical placement in a space and how it relates to everything around it.
This category involves every aspect of how the sculpture is either mechanically and/or naturally lit, 24/7.
After determining a likely location for a sculpture, this category involves considering everything around the sculpture, both physical and visual, and how it might affect all the other categories now and in the future.
After determining a probable location for a sculpture, what is the perceived risk it will be stolen, vandalized, or toppled over by some force of nature?
After determining a probable location for a sculpture, is there anything about its location or stability that could cause harm to someone?
After determining a probable location for a sculpture, beyond what would normally be needed to maintain the sculpture in general, it is important to determine if there are any additional maintenance issues created by siting the work in that location.
For any location a sculpture is sited, it is wise to take a moment and think about the area and what types of geophysical or weather related worse-case scenarios might affect the sculpture. If there is a potential problem, planning ahead for an event can minimize possible damage if one is forewarned.
For any location a sculpture is sited, are there any environmental issues such as direct sunlight, excessive moisture, extreme variations in temperature, or acid rain that needs to be considered?
In this series of articles, each of the above topics will be addressed regarding the proper placement of sculpture in both indoor and outdoor settings. I hope that forwarding my experiences with all types of sculpture installation will help you to more easily handle the issues faced when a design client wants to add sculpture to their art collection.
I am always available to discuss questions that may arise with sculpture placement. Just send an email with images attached of the sculpture and where you would like to place the work along with your phone number and I will get back to you as soon as I can. I may not always have a solution, but I bet I will be able to help you ask good questions.