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A Brief Introduction To Collecting Art

Protecting Original Artowrk and Sculpture
Did you know that a fine art print can be damaged hanging in your own home, regardless of whether or not it is hit by a disaster? As a collector, you should be aware of the many protective measures that can help safeguard your treasures from those elements that can cause harm to your art.


The first step is to make sure that your artwork is framed using UV protective glass. The inks used to create a beautiful print can fade when exposed to sunlight. Make sure that your print is hung out of direct sunlight or away from bright light. Rotating your collection can also help prevent fading.

While insured art is covered in the event of theft, fire, or water damage, or damage caused during transit, a policy will not pay for gradual deterioration such as fading caused by natural or artificial light.


You don’t want the mat around your print to discolor your fine art print. Make sure that your print is matted using acid-free matting.


Museums spend millions of dollars a year making sure that their rooms are perfectly climate controlled. In your home, try keeping the temperature, either via air-conditioning or heating, relatively constant. The same is true for humidity: too much moisture could cause a mold problem, while very dry air will cause paper to become fragile and wood to crack.


Be sure to securely mount your artwork. Use hooks that are approved for slightly more than the weight of the object you wish to hang. Remember that not all walls are equal, and some require special mollies or anchors. For three-dimensional objects, you should consider whether they are prone to tip over. For small glass art such as Chihuly glass sculpture, museum wax is a wonderful tool. It will adhere smaller three-dimensional objects to a surface without causing any damage to the artwork.


In the event your artwork is damaged, seek the help of a professional conservator as soon as possible. The faster you do, the better the chances that the art can be repaired. Your insurance broker or a curator should be able to provide referrals for experienced conservators, appraisers, art storage facilities, and other art professionals in your area. Another excellent reference is the Appraisers Association of America, www.appraisersassoc.org.

Keeping records

You will also want to create a detailed record of your art collection that includes information about the artist, title, date, medium, size, current condition, and purchase information such as the gallery where it was purchased and the date as well as any receipts and catalogs where the artwork appeared. It is also a good idea to keep photographs of the artwork. In the case of three-dimensional objects, take photographs from several angles, so that you have a record of all sides of the object. Ideally, you should keep your records in a safe, off-site location, like a safety deposit box.

Another resource is www.object-id.com which provides a detailed checklist on documenting your artwork.


Protecting your fine art collection includes making sure it is adequately covered by insurance. If your homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover artwork you can turn to specialist brokers with experience and knowledge in both insurance and artwork. Whether covered through your homeowner’s policy or an additional policy, it is important that you review your policy on a yearly basis.

* Based on an article by Carrie Coolidge, “The Fine Art of Protecting Fine Art” on Forbes.com, May 19, 2005
Collection Management: The First Step
You’ve assembled a collection. How do you look after it? First of all, this is an ongoing process extending from proper installation and the right insurance coverage to planning for subsequent stewardship. A conservator, appraiser, and attorney may all play a role.

Documenting each work

A good first step is documenting and tracking relevant information. Maintain a separate file for each work. Include the purchase invoice with date and seller. Ask the gallery or auction house for available photographs as well as exhibition and conservation histories. Take color photographs of the back and front of a painting, and several angles of a three-dimensional object. Record any information on the back of a photograph as it will be hidden once the work is framed. Train your eye to detect all nuances about the baseline condition of each object: Is there an anomalous patch of paint? Do striations appear in the patina of a bronze sculpture? Date all observations. Finish by completing the checklist at the end of this article. Your records can be paper, electronic, or a mixture. With a simple spreadsheet, Microsoft Access database, or off-the-shelf collection management software, you can create reports with ease. Plan to store a copy of your data in a separate location. Although you may prune works from your collection, keep the records. They are a valuable part of your collection’s history.


Learn all you can about the content or meaning of each work and the times in which it was made. Research the artist’s biography. Make it a goal to visit exhibitions of artists you collect. Clip and save their reviews from newspapers, magazines, and on-line. Follow their stylistic development. Whose works are like theirs? What periods within their work are considered most important? Challenge yourself to grasp the details as well as the large picture.


You will want to be aware of the market conditions for the areas in which you collect. Are values climbing, falling, or remaining stable? This information will guide many decisions, from insurance and gifting to security and estate planning. Auction catalogues as well as on-line auction databases such as Artnet.com, artprice.com, or AskART.com provide a useful range of pricing for paintings and sculptures. Artfact.com follows furniture and decorative arts as well. For a more precise figure turn to a certified appraiser. Specify whether you require fair market value (the basis – with adjustments – for taxes, gifts, and donations) or replacement value (for insurance). Fair Market Value is equivalent to the price likely to be received at auction. Replacement Value is usually higher, and can be thought of as an object’s retail price. It is wise to have a collection re-appraised every five years or so. As the foregoing suggests, good collections management is the rational side of collecting. Yet its rewards are also satisfying, and it yields a fine result: a collection secured for the ages.


Below is essential information to record about each item in your collection.

  • Artist/Maker
  • Dates of Artist/Maker
  • Title of Work
  • Description of Subject Matter or Type of Work
  • Date of Work
  • Materials
  • Dimensions
  • Condition: Describe the object’s surface, and carefully note any changes during periodic re-examinations. If you send a work for conservation, obtain the conservator’s report and file it. Note in your record the date of the report and that you have added it to the file.
  • Inscriptions and Markings: Examine the back as well as the front of every two-dimensional work. Record earlier labels, inventory numbers, artist signatures, and all other writing.
  • Distinguishing Features
  • Location of Object: Especially important if you have more than one residence.
  • Display: Who framed or mounted it? How was it secured?
  • Provenance: What is the collection history of the object? To whom did it previously belong? Pay special attention to antiquities and to any work created before 1946 thought to have been in Europe after 1932.
  • Bibliography: Is your work cited in the catalogue raisonné of the artist? This will definitely affect valuation, as authentication frequently depends on a work’s inclusion in the accepted catalogue raisonné. Are there other citations?
  • Exhibition History: If possible file a copy of the catalogue of any show in which a work has appeared. Otherwise make a copy of the complete reference including dates and location.
  • Purchase Price and Date
  • Appraisal History
  • Loan History: Record exhibition dates, venues, and the value placed on the work at the time of the loan. Make notes about its condition before it leaves, and require a condition report from each location.

One Response to “A Brief Introduction To Collecting Art”

  1. Great advice, Steven. Artwork will give pleasure for many, many years to come if looked after correctly. I particularly like your comments about the effects that light can have on artwork. This is something very important particularly in South Florida.