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There is a tear in my Picasso

January 6, 2010

There is a Tear in My Picasso
In late January of this year, a six-inch tear in a Picasso painting from 1904 during his Rose Period made news not just in the art world but everywhere. The painting, titled “The Actor,” which carried a pre-loss estimated value of $130 million, was hanging in its usual place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when a student in an art class reportedly stumbled onto it. The sheer value of the work and the artist – probably the greatest painter of the twentieth century – were reasons enough for the incident to make headlines across the world. For art world watchers there was another cause for fascination; the incident was strikingly similar to something that happened in 2006. Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn was showing his own Picasso to some friends, misjudged how close he was and created what was reported to be a two-inch rip. Shortly before the accident, Mr. Wynn had agreed to sell the work for the breathtaking sum of $139 million.

Not Even Safe at the Met
While the gash in “The Actor” was newsworthy enough, equally startling was where it happened. The Metropolitan Museum in New York is arguably the most prominent museum in the world, an institution where its many legendary works are considered safe for future generations and where careless damage is not expected to occur. Representatives from the Met have not revealed much information about the incident. There is speculation that if more information was forthcoming it may show that the risk management protocols had not been followed or that existing protocols are inadequate.

Financial Aftermaths
After completing a reported $85,000 conservation and repair, Mr. Wynn sued his insurers, Lloyd’s of London for $54 million loss in value, a coverage known under many fine arts policies as “diminution in value.” This amount was likely disputed by the insurers, and it is believed that Wynn ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount. Gerard van Weyenbergh, a Picasso expert, speaking to the New York Post, estimated the potential loss in value to the Met’s “Actor” to be as much as 50 percent. It is not known at this time whether the Met will file an insurance claim for diminution in value but the museum has declared that the work will be conserved and will be on view during an exhibition to be held later this year.

On-Site Damage: an Underestimated Exposure?
According to Claire Marmion of the Haven Art Group, specialists in art protection, many museums, galleries and private collectors are generally less focused on the risks of on-site damage to artworks than on the risks of damage during transit. Loss statistics from art insurers across the country show this to be a significant problem. “One would not dream of having a $5 million home without a rigorous maintenance program in place and yet I regularly see private collections displayed without best practices or a good framework built to protect the art from these sorts of on-site exposures.”

Lessons for Collectors
Collectors should work with their insurance and art professionals to be sure their collections are adequately insured to value and are properly conserved at all times.
♦Temperature controls, smoke detectors humidity monitors and water detection devices should be installed and regularly monitored.
♦ All works should be inspected by an art professional to be sure they are properly framed or mounted, hung on secure hooks, or placed on solid bases or shelves. Light damage is a major concern and works should generally not be exposed to direct sunlight. Ultraviolet-filtering glass and shades should be considered in rooms with many windows.
♦ When collectors have guests in their home, vulnerable works can be protected by such measures as strategic furniture placement or by temporary relocation to safer areas. Assigning someone to keep people from getting too close might also be considered.
♦ If the art is kept at locations which are prone to hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural catastrophes, a disaster-preparedness survey is of utmost importance as is a plan for action when there is warning of a natural disaster.
♦ Protocols should be established for housekeeping so that cleaning near the art is done only by qualified personnel while dusting and cleaning of the art itself is done only occasionally and with proper implements.
♦ While on-site exposure should not be underestimated, damage during transit still poses a significant risk for works of art, and moving should only be undertaken by professional art handlers. Works should be properly crated under supervision of an art professional, who should also help to prepare a detailed transit plan that includes how the work will be crated, shipped and insured.

Chartwell Bulletins are produced by Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. an independent insurance broker specializing in the personal asset protection of high net worth individuals. Chartwell Bulletins address issues of general interest and since coverages vary by company and by state should not be taken as an interpretation of a particular policy or advice on any individual situation. Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this Bulletin and does not accept compensation from any of these entities.

A representative of Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. will be pleased to discuss all aspects of your personal insurance.
Contact: Rebecca Korach Woan | 312. 645.1200 |