Protecting your collection from aging and damage


Mary Rozell

It has been estimated that only 5 percent of the world’s artworks will survive the next hundred years.  Most artworks simply are not made to last forever and they require a lot of care – care with installation, temperature and humidity fluctuations, as well as protection against accidents and natural disasters such as fire, floods, and hurricanes which are becoming all too common.

Mary Rozell, programme director for the Sotheby’s Institute MA in Art Business in New York and author of the recently published The Art Collector’s Handbook: A Guide to Collection Management and Care, advises that collectors should be particularly wary of how they go about transporting their work.

“As the majority of damage to artworks (about 65 percent) occurs in transit, collectors should only move their artworks when it’s absolutely necessary,” she says.  “When they do so, they should use proper packing methods and procedures and employ qualified art handlers.”

She adds that collectors also have to be mindful about where and how they display their art.

“I am continually shocked by the number of artworks in people’s homes that are exposed to the glare of sunlight or lighting systems,” she says.  “Fading through these elements happens imperceptibly and, unlike some other damage, can never be reversed.

“Likewise, one sees oil paintings hung over working fireplaces and unglazed works adorning active kitchens.  Collectors should not hesitate to get advice about proper installation and protection for their art.”

Here are Rozell’s tips would for successfully building and managing your collection:

  • When acquiring art, always use due diligence. And if the work is considered important or particularly valuable, be vigilant.  Do not take information received about the work at face value, but do your own research and make calls.
  • Try not to buy on impulse.  Art fairs and auctions, with their compressed time frames and air of competition, often seduce collectors into buying too quickly and can result in buyer’s remorse.
  • Keep every bit of information related to an artwork – invoices, shipping details, insurance records, exhibition histories, conservation reports, images, etc. – in one comprehensive, accessible, and secure collection management system. (I recommend Cloud systems that can be accessed from any location.)  These details are all central to a work’s value – and are all too often dispersed and/or forgotten.
  • Consider the expenses involved in owning art at the time of purchase.  Unlike other assets such as securities, buying art, disposing of it, and maintaining it all cost money. Collectors can expect to spend 1- 5 percent of the collection’s value on annual maintenance. That’s something that needs to be considered from the start.
  • Plan ahead.  Collectors naturally don’t like to think about parting with their works of art. But selling or gifting art takes time and consideration, bequests are not always readily accepted, and intentions are often thwarted. Life-long enjoyment of one’s collection includes feeling satisfied with its ultimate disposition.