Insuring artwork

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am

Protect investments by taking out a policy and taking good care of the piece

A set of 14 'gunpowder paintings' by Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang that sold for US$9.5 million at an auction in Hong Kong last November broke records for the artist and for Chinese contemporary art. And, while paying for the art probably was not a concern for the winning bidder, insuring his lot should have been.

Experts in the specialised field of art insurance urge anyone with works valued at more than HK$1.5 million to consider insuring it as a way to protect the investment.

Due to the sensitive nature of the materials used and the need for extra caution in handling, displaying and caring for it, insuring artwork is not as straightforward as simply adding a rider to a home insurance policy.

You must locate a specialist art insurer, of which there are a few in Hong Kong. An easy way is to ask insurance brokers, auction houses or art galleries who they recommend.

Then there is the paperwork. You will need to present a purchase receipt or appraisal evaluation, (also called a valuation report) for the artwork to the insurance company.

Credible sources for these documents include established art galleries and reputable auction houses such as Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams.

Next you need to specify what kind of art it is, and include a description of size, artist name and title of art. The insurance company has a database to verify value and help identify if a client is over-insured or under-insured.

Remember, a valuable piece doesn't have to be antique. Perhaps it is a piece with special merit, historical value or sentimental value made for a special occasion, according to Jennifer Scally, regional manager at AXA Art. She defined fine art as 'any kind of artwork that we can't 100 per cent replace or restore'.

For artwork with sentimental value, AXA Art will ask the client to suggest a value while the company will verify a 'market value'. Together, they work towards an 'agreed value'.

'If the insured doesn't agree, we refer them to a professional valuer such as a reputable auction house to get a valuation report and we use that,' Ms Scally said.

Insurers also remind clients to check the value and update it periodically - fine art can depreciate as well as appreciate. And the replacement value of fine art insurance is based on the present market rate.

Once the fanfare dies down for a winning bidder, many collectors soon realise that their purchase poses challenges for care and conservation - especially for contemporary art, according to Tracy Xu, regional manager, AIG Private Client Group.

Collectors need to know that while art insurance protects your investment against fire, flood, theft and damage, insurance companies expect owners to do their part to keep the art safe.

'Fortunately, a specialist art insurer such as AIG Private Client Group can assist with most aspects of protecting your artwork, from display to care, conservation and oversight of transit,' Ms Xu said.

Mandy d'Abo, director of The Cat Street Gallery, has many years of experience buying insurance for the works of the many artists on her books. She highlighted that the constant fluctuations in Hong Kong's temperature could damage artwork, which was a big issue for art lovers and insurance companies.

At particular risk are works on paper, such as photographs, because of the possibility of condensation between the print and the glass.

'It is key to keep the exhibiting environment as constant as possible, which can be achieved with little management. Air-conditioning and dehumidifiers are key,' she said of a few protective steps she undertook, which are also recommended by insurance experts.

'The thing is to try to strike a balance between exhibiting and enjoying our works and also ensuring they are kept safe from harm,' she said.

Art insurers can also help manage risk by referring clients to a network of specialist resources, such as professional art conservators or freight handlers.

Ms d'Abo said it was important to use an experienced freight handler. 'Moving abroad or transporting artwork to a new home is the most hazardous time for potential damage.'

Therefore, both she and the freight handler will have insurance.