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How to Get the Hang of Art Acquisition

May 17, 1997|From Associated Press

Buying and owning art involves not only the exhilaration of the hunt and the joy of having a masterpiece over your mantel, but also the practical side of the process.

Dealing with a 4,400-pound sculpture or a delicate Rembrandt drawing, Mimi Thompson wrote in an article in the current issue of Town & Country, can be complicated.

Verification

The first question to ask is whether it is stolen. One good place to inquire if an object of art has ever been stolen is the London-based Art Loss Register, an international database of about 80,000 thefts. Many auction houses, including Sotheby's and Christie's, routinely run items they plan to sell through the Art Loss Register.

More thorough is Trans-Art, a Washington, D.C., company that issues due-diligence certificates establishing that a genuine effort was made to discover whether works have been stolen.

Shipping

You must also know how to pack and ship the art. Begin by asking your local museum or the gallery where you bought the artwork for recommendations.

Masterpiece International Ltd., a brokerage house that subcontracts work to packers, craters and truckers, has offices in New York, outside Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.

The fortress at Judson Art Warehouse offers state-of-the-art storage facilities for your art. It has offices in New York, Miami and Boston. Each branch does its own packing and crating.

One of the nation's biggest shippers is Fine Arts Express Worldwide, with branches in 13 U.S. cities. Its corporate office is in Boston.

Other highly regarded shipping firms include: L.A. Packing and Crating in Los Angeles; Lebron Brothers in New York, which specializes in folding and packing very large paintings; and Terry Dowd in Chicago.

Appraisal

The right time to discover the condition of a work of art is before you buy it. A reputable dealer should always tell you whether any repairs have been made to the piece.

If you are looking at a work on paper, inspect it out of its frame. Paintings on canvas or any other surface must be scrutinized too.

After you buy a work of art, make sure it is readily identifiable by photographing, measuring and cataloging it.

Insuring

When you insure your art, you have to decide whether you want a blanket policy for all your art. Though it offers the flexibility of not having to list each work of art separately, it does have a disadvantage--a per-item limit.

Because the value of a work of art can change quickly (if the artist suddenly becomes popular or if the artists dies), you should consider having your collection reappraised every six or seven years.

Preservation

Collectors should pay attention to climate control in their houses. Humidity levels should be monitored year-round. The ideal museum standard is 50% humidity, and you should try to avoid changes of more than 5% in either direction.

In the warmer parts of the United States in summer, air conditioning should be turned on even while you are away. Art is comfortable at 68 degrees. But again, the main thing is stability of temperature--no highs or lows.

All these practical considerations may make the ownership of art seem more of a burden than an adventure. But there is a practical reason to work so hard at preserving your artwork. If you decide to sell your art, you will get a much better price for a piece in excellent condition.

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