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Top 10 Causes of Fine Art Damage

Learn how to limit your risk

Whether you’ve spent a lifetime acquiring a world-class collection, inherited family heirlooms or simply purchased objects to decorate a home, the condition of each piece will impact its financial worth.

Surprisingly, most art-related losses are caused by circumstances that are under your control to manage (or avoid). Along with distinct insurance coverage, a better understanding of the prevalent risks can help you manage your collection more effectively over time. Consider the following:

  1. Transit
    A work of art is never more at risk of being damaged than when it is being handled. Whenever you are purchasing artwork or moving it between homes, always ensure that you have engaged a shipping company that specializes in handling fine art.
  2. Installation
    Inadequate installation is one of the most frequent causes of damage to private collections, so whenever possible, valuable works should be installed under the guidance of a professional art handler. It is always good practice to use two hooks and two wires for hanging pictures and mirrors, as the redundancy adds stability and decreases likelihood of loss should one hook fail.
  3. Placement When deciding on where to install your art, avoid accidental damages by looking beyond the aesthetics of your home by considering the location of doors and pathways. Do not place objects in areas that are highly trafficked, above fireplaces, or beneath air vents. To limit long term damage caused by the harmful effects of sunlight, place objects out of direct sunlight and consider installing UV-filters on your windows.
  4. Environment
    Drastic fluctuations in temperature and humidity can have a negative long term effect on art and antiques as materials dry out or expand and contract over time. As much as possible, maintain a consistent temperature and relative humidity (RH) in rooms containing works of art. In homes with climate control systems, the environmental levels best suited for a general collection are 68-72 °F and a relative humidity of 45–55%. Consult a conservator for specific environmental recommendations for your collection.
  5. Theft
    It is no secret that works of art are attractive targets for thieves, although surprisingly, most art thefts are crimes of opportunity that easily could have been prevented. Secure the “envelope” of your home with a central station burglar alarm with motion sensors and contacts on all doors and windows. For jewelry and other portable valuables, install a safe that is bolted in to the fabric of your home.
  6. Fire
    Every minute a fire burns it doubles in size, which means that early detection is critical to saving lives and property. To best protect your home, family and collection, install a centrally-monitored smoke detector in every area of your home and keep annually inspected fire extinguishers handy. Monitored heat detectors can be used in kitchens and unfinished basement areas.
  7. Storage
    Ideally, all items that are not installed in your home should be stored off-site in a professional climate-controlled facility. If that is not feasible, dedicate one room in your home for art storage only. To protect items from leaks and spills, never store anything on the floor, even temporarily. If pictures need to be stacked, stack them front-to-front and back-to-back, alternating vertically and horizontally to minimize the chance of one pushing into another.
  8. Emergencies
    Writing a collection-specific emergency plan will ensure that you and your service providers act efficiently and effectively to protect your collection before and after a catastrophe. A standard plan includes: a priority list of items to be removed; a communication list with contact information; a list of tools and equipment needed; wrapping and handling instructions; the locations of gas, water, and electricity shut-offs, with instructions; training an emergency response team; and a conservation plan for the post-event period.
  9. Documentation
    Maintaining up to date inventory records reduces the likelihood of mysterious disappearance and an inventory with images helps expedite the claims process in the unfortunate event of a loss. The format you use can be as simple as a comprehensive list, but we recommend entering descriptions and images into a secure computerized collection management database, with a copy stored off site.
  10. Appraisals
    The value of your collection will increase over time, regardless of seasonal or annual trends. Since appraisals are used as the basis for insurance coverage, if a piece is damaged, lost or stolen, an outdated value could limit your ability to be fully compensated under your insurance policy. Typically, we recommend that appraisals be updated no less than every three to four years. Consult your appraiser to find out what timeframe is recommended for your collection.

Last updated Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

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AIG Private Client Group is a division of the member companies of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). Policies are underwritten by member companies of AIG, including AIG PROPERTY CASUALTY COMPANY. This is a summary only. It does not include all terms and conditions and exclusions of the policies described. All references to claim settlement information are based on the loss being covered by the policy and are subject to change without prior notice. Please refer to the actual policies for complete details of coverage and exclusions. Coverage and supplemental services may not be available in all jurisdictions and are subject to underwriting review and approval. Services provided by third parties are not guaranteed by AIG Private Client Group and may be discontinued at any time.

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