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How to keep your art safe from damage, both natural and man-made

  • Protecting your artwork begins the moment you buy it, says one art expert

Finding a perfect piece of art to fill that blank space in your home can be like the proverbial needle in a haystack. But once you own it, how do you protect that painting or sculpture? Protection includes insurance, for sure, but it means more than just securing a policy.

“Collectors should know that risk management starts from the point of financial acquisition, even before they take physical possession of the piece," said Laura Doyle, vice president, jewelry and valuable collections manager for Chubb Personal Risk Services in New York. “Do your due diligence, including inquiring about provenance and condition, and buy from reputable sources. And it’s critical to keep protection top of mind when displaying your artwork."

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One of the easiest ways homeowners can protect valuable pieces is to be judicious when selecting spots to display them. That blank wall above your fireplace mantel might seem like a perfect focal point for your latest acquisition, for example. But experts advise caution.

“If you’re going to use the fireplace once a year, then it probably won’t matter," said Kipton Cronkite, an art adviser and curator in Los Angeles. “But if you’re using it often, the heat can damage a canvas, photograph or print. In that case, consider hanging a less valuable piece above the mantel."

R. Couri Hay learned the hard way how easy it is for a piece to get damaged. Mr. Hay, a New York-based publicist, owns a 10-foot by 6-foot Andy Warhol lightbox. It was a gift from Mr. Warhol that Mr. Hay estimates is worth in the mid-to-high six figures. It was damaged when it fell off the wall because it was improperly hung. His hand-carved 20-foot-tall totem pole was decapitated by a gardener trimming wisteria on a nearby trellis. And, when his house in Southampton burned to the ground about 10 years ago, he lost a “houseful of art," including a painted door created by Keith Haring that was worth over $1.5 million—and wasn’t separately insured.

“I was absolutely crushed to lose the art in the fire, because these things had been collected over many years," said Mr. Hay. “Your art collection becomes part of who you are. It’s a true reflection of your personality."

Mr. Hay had his handyman hang the Andy Warhol lightbox, and it wasn’t secured properly, as he found out later. “I should have called the Met to get a reference to have it hung," he said. Professional art hangers ensure that pieces are hung on picture hooks with an adequate weight rating and secured in the studs if they weigh over 50 pounds, rather than hanging them from a single nail, which can easily detach from the wall.

Experts such as Mr. Cronkite recommend that art be hung out of direct sunlight. “For oil and acrylic paintings, it is not such a big deal," he said. “But when it comes to prints and photography, you need to keep them out of direct sunlight or use UV glass to reduce fading." While regular glass protects your art from dust and scratches, frames with museum-quality glass or plexiglass block up to 99% of UV light rays. Homeowners should evaluate their wall space at different times to ensure there are no surprises in the fall when the sun hits a different place than it did in the summer, when the art was hung. The humidity level of the room is important, as well, Mr. Cronkite said; keep photos and prints out of bathrooms.

While it might not always be possible to protect artwork from harm—just ask collectors in California who lost their homes to wildfires—it is possible to protect your investment. Ms. Doyle, of Chubb, recommends that collectors insure their artwork under a valuables policy that provides world-wide, all-risk coverage with no deductible. Covered pieces must be appraised and itemized in the policy, and appraisals should be updated regularly to keep up with market fluctuations. The cost of a valuable articles policy for a personal art collection varies by location, risk of natural disasters, the value of the collection and whether there is central-station security and fire detection, with 24/7 monitoring by an alarm company. She said a personal art collection valued at $1 million would cost between $1,000 and $3,500 annually to insure with Chubb.

Some tips to protect your art collection:

• Secure insurance early. Laura Doyle, of Chubb, said the risk of loss transfers to a buyer when final payment is made. That is when insurance should be in place. Buyers must make plans for crating, transit and installation.

• Transport properly. Use a shipping or moving company that specializes in fine art to pack and ship your pieces. Stay away from general movers. They may not have experience handling fragile or high-value objects. “Never assume that the movers are going to treat your art as delicately as you will," said art adviser Kipton Cronkite. Get referrals from your art gallery, your insurance company, an art consultant or a local art museum.

• Take special care with heavy or unusual pieces. For heavy sculptures or delicate lighting installations, consider placing furniture in front of the piece to prevent guests from getting too close to it—similar to the ropes used by museums. That way, the furniture provides an additional line of defense.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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