Art insurers tremble with the wave of "eco-vandalism"

The art insurance business is small and has no loss, so each news immediately mobilizes the participants.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
26 November 2022 Saturday 22:31
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Art insurers tremble with the wave of "eco-vandalism"

The art insurance business is small and has no loss, so each news immediately mobilizes the participants. This is what is happening with the latest attacks on works of art by activists against climate change, which has put the bunch of insurers dedicated to assessing this type of risk on guard.

His diagnosis for now is that the activists are respecting a kind of secret code of the perfect vandal, who leaves no damage for the account he brings. However, they are far from calm and observe the phenomenon with concern, fearing uncontrolled actions.

Art insurance operators in Spain can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Axa XL is the largest insurer of this type in the country, especially when it comes to a temporary exhibition of some importance. Hiscox is the reference in private collections and galleries, where the British Lloyd's also operates, with a wide international projection. Mapfre, Generali and Liberty are also making their first steps, as specialized divisions within their respective corporations. All of them are in charge of Aon, which is the main art broker in Spain, ahead of other smaller firms such as PoolSegur. If a valuable work has to be moved, SIT, the carrier for the most special occasions, comes into play.

All these companies are the ones that the Prado, the Thyssen, the Reina Sofía or the Macba call every time they pick up the phone to organize the transfer of a painting or make a temporary loan to another institution. They are also remembered by gallery owners and any administration willing to exhibit the heritage. At that time, the so-called nail-to-nail insurance is activated, which is fully comprehensive and includes the outward trip to the exhibition, the permanence and the return.

This paraphernalia is alien to the acts of vandalism in recent weeks, which have been directed at permanent works of unquantifiable value. Ecovandals have thrown tomato sauce on Van Gogh's sunflowers, purée on Monet, paint on Warhol's Campbell's soups, and oil on a Klimt painting. They have also glued the head to the girl with the pearl and the hands to Goya's pestles, but so far they have not damaged any work of art.

From the insurance firms with which La Vanguardia has spoken, they emphasize that in all these actions the painting was covered with glass and was part of the state patrimony. It is an open secret: neither Las Meninas nor Guernica nor any other masterpiece are insured because the cost of doing so would be unaffordable for the museums. The museum's restoration services and, ultimately, the State are responsible for the damage. The attack on Goya's pestles, they warn, is on the edge of the danger zone because the frame can also be considered part of the work, and some of them have enormous value.

The alarm for insurers would go off if any of these circumstances were to occur: an attack on a large painting -the windows only protect limited surfaces-, in a temporary exhibition -this is where insurance comes into play- and in a work of private collection of a great museum –there are and often insured–. That is when the vandalism would have much more serious effects. Going from the Prado to the Botín Center in Santander or the Guggenheim in Bilbao would also mean a change of scenery.

For the moment, they indicate, the price of the premiums has not risen nor has the number of exposures been reduced. The wording of the contracts has not been changed either. Security has been considerably strengthened in large museums, with much more exhaustive entry controls.