Insurer Warns New American Hurricane Season Threatens Billions of Dollars of Art

Advice for protecting your collection.

Hurricane Ivan. Photo: courtesy NASA/GSFC.

It is the beginning of hurricane season, and insurance companies are now warning art collectors to take measures to protect their holdings in the event of flooding and other storm-related damages.

Though meteorologists are predicting a below-average number of storm systems for the season, which runs through November, art insurers remind us that it takes just one major hurricane to create a catastrophic disaster—as those effected by Hurricane Sandy learned the hard way (see: Artists Reconstruct Studio Destroyed by Hurricane Sandy).

Following the 2012 storm and its monumental surge, Chelsea galleries found themselves literally under water. As a result, many works, especially works on paper, were irreparably damaged, along with computers, files, and expensive furniture. “I would say that perhaps 2 percent of my inventory escaped damage,” New York gallery owner Zach Feuer told the New York Times that October. Printed Matter, a Chelsea nonprofit catering to artist’s books, had $200,000 in damages, according to Hyperallergic. In November 2012, Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that it would take $19 billion for repairs in New York City alone.

The threat of flooding and the reality of steep insurance premiums have forced many galleries to set up shop elsewhere. Some dealers even scheduled the exhibition of more delicate works outside of hurricane season (see Will Chelsea Ever Recover From Hurricane Sandy?).

The post-Hurricane Sandy clean up at CRG Gallery. Photo: Robert Caplin, courtesy the New York Times.

The post-Hurricane Sandy clean up at CRG Gallery.
Photo: Robert Caplin, courtesy the New York Times.

“Prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much or how little activity is predicted,” experts at the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University wrote in their most recent hurricane forecast. Taking basic precautions and having a plan should disaster strike is key in ensuring both personal safety and that of artworks and collectibles.

After Sandy, the Museum of Modern Art in New York released a conservation guide for those affected by natural disasters. AXA Art has also created a guide to hurricane preparedness with regard to protecting artwork. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works also has good guides on maintenance and care for an array of objets d’art. The common sense advice includes investing in hurricane shutters, not storing artworks in basements and attics, and having a back-up storage location ready in case an evacuation become necessary ahead of a major storm.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Photo: Gus Powell, courtesy <em>New York Magazine</em>.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Photo: Gus Powell, courtesy New York Magazine.

It is also important that collectors keep a careful inventory of their art holdings, and keep at least two copies of all documents in waterproof (and fireproof) storage boxes. Think ahead, and have a hard copy of the contact information for your insurance company, as well as an art conservator, art storage facility, and contractor, on hand.

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