The Joker was here. Previously known as Jack Napier before the Gotham Crusader dropped him into a vat of chemicals, the Joker meets up with Vicki Vale in the museum, but not before ordering his thugs to deface the paintings on display.
Let’s have some perspective. Say, for argument’s sake, that you own a radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), a near-endangered species native to Madagascar which, for some abstract reason, happens to inhabit your abode. Weighing maybe 30 pounds or more, this pet has a blunt head, elephantine feet and a high-domed and extraordinarily hard carapace for a shell.
Now let’s further assume that you are an avid painting collector, having amassed some of the local masters including the recent acquisition of a Botong Francisco, valued in today’s art universe in excess of Ps 50 million. Still undecided where to hang your booty, you lean it against one wall, awaiting its permanent place in the atelier. Your reptile, no still life he, ambles along the living room, espies the Botong, and with just the slightest hint of non-appreciation, accidentally tips it over on its stone-like carapace. The fabled painting falls with a thud on your pet’s back, and sustains a small, two-inch tear right in the middle, a fact that might have gone unnoticed by the untrained eye, but for you, a disaster of catastrophic proportions that totally eclipses its market value.
That, in broad brushstrokes, is the accident you never imagined could happen. But it has, and incredibly enough, the actual collector who owned it had a Fine Arts insurance policy that paid for the full market value of the painting. He was protected by “all risks” coverage which, save for a few absolute exceptions, provided him coverage for just about any exposure – including the unexpected collision with a radiated tortoise.
Fine Arts insurance surfaced as a policy in the 1980s, and it is today considered an esoteric class of business that is underwritten by a few select syndicates in Lloyds of London who have elevated it to some kind of an art form. There are coverages for personal art collectors, institutional buyers and fine arts dealers, each policy being unique in its own way. Protection is available whether the objets d’art are in the premises of the owner, on exhibit at a gallery, or whilst in transit in between these two locations. The policy even extends to protect paintings while in the shop of an art restorer (who may be trying to repair that two-inch tear) if his premises were to suffer the same risks – fire, earthquake, flood, theft – that the collector himself was exposed to.
Chest-deep water from Hurricane Sandy swept New York City’s art district and severely flooded galleries as well as basements where paintings and other valuable works were in storage.
Flooding, you ask? Two months after Hurricane Sandy severely flooded galleries in Chelsea, New York in 2012, specialist underwriters estimated that insured losses for ruined art may exceed US$ 500 million, a figure that would wipe out their annual premiums earned for that year. Ranking as the largest ever art loss sustained by insurers, it wasn’t just the massive wetting exposure; objects that needed to be in a controlled environment, like works on wood, also suffered damages resulting from the power blackout followed by the temporary loss of heating systems.
Heists? Still fashionable. The largest art theft in the US involved the 1990 burglary of Boston’s Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum, where thieves disguised as police officers stole rare works from masters like Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer and Manet. It remains unsolved to date, and a US$ 5 million no-questions-asked reward continues to be offered for any information leading to their recovery. Edvard Munch’s iconic “Scream” was stolen twice – once in 1994 at the National Art Museum in Oslo, and again in 2004 from the Munch Museum. And in 2012, bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach proposed a US$ 1.7 million bounty for the return of his stolen collection that included works by Jasper Johns, Richard Diebenkorn and Piet Mondrian’s “Composition En Rouge Et Blanc.”
Right here in Manila, sculptor Ramon Orlina reported last year the theft of his “Protector”glass work from an Alabang design space, and another sculpture in a Mandaluyong mall, both captured on CCTC camera footage. National Artist Abdulmari Imao lost one of his paintings in a break-in at a San Juan mall back in 2005, at about the same time that a well-known collector’s upscale house in Quezon City was targeted by a faux magazine journalist requesting a photography session of his masters. Contemporary artist BenCab reported the loss of two paintings while on transit via FedEx from Los Angeles to Singapore in 2010. And in a surreal turn of events, the former personal secretary of Imelda Marcos was charged in New York late last year of conspiring to sell Monet’s 1899 “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” for US$ 32 million, along with other works from the hoard accumulated during the Martial Law regime.
So if you are losing sleep over the safety of your exquisite works of art, you are in impressively famous company. Fine Art insurance is a niche product in a class of its own, and the key consideration is valuation – not the price at which you acquired it from that grieving widow who needed quick cash, but the value of that painting in today’s art market, which can rapidly escalate in direct proportion to the artist’s failing health. Most Lloyds syndicates will require a professional appraisal, a not insurmountable stumbling block which, while the best way to establish evidence of worth, often discourages the would-be insurance buyer. You should ask an experienced insurance broker to locate the few select underwriters who will consider self-estimated values depending on the background of the collector, the security systems in place at his residence, and a clean loss record.
Don’t be inveigled into believing that your common Householders insurance policy includes these gems, because the unvarnished truth is that they do not. An outrageously antiquarian provision stating that “any curiosity or work of art not exceeding Ps 200.00” is covered is an affront to even the most amateur collector. You need specialist advice for your masterpieces – and not just for insurance, but also for storage, packing, transit and restoration. Insuring your art can be a complex and costly enterprise – but the devastation of your collection in one fell swoop of a tropical storm is even more unaffordable.