When the Levee Breaks — Art Insurance & Eco-Disasters

Emilie Trice | April 14, 2021

Photo by Egor Gordeev on Unsplash

Chances are, you’ve been affected by climate change.

From smoke-choked air in San Francisco and wildfires across the west coast to flooding in Nashville and hurricanes in Houston, south Florida, and even New York City (remember Hurricane Sandy?), the climate crisis seems to grow more dire with each passing year. 

It’s safe (and also sad) to say that severe weather patterns constitute a new normal. Not everyone has the means, however, to repurpose a bunker for their art collection, as Christian and Karen Boros and Beth Rudin DeWoody have done. Their art collections will likely be fine, come hell or high water. 

For the rest of us art-loving collectors who live in less fortified structures, the risk that climate disaster poses to these objects is both urgent and ongoing. 

In fact, Artwork Archive’s own origin story begins with a flood. Our co-founder Justin Anthony experienced a flood — in land-locked Denver of all places — which severely damaged a large portion of his art collection. What came after the flood, however, was infuriating.

As he recalls, "I was unable to find the receipts and documentation for the works, which made things incredibly difficult with the insurance company.” 

This experience ultimately led him and co-founder John Feustel to establish the cloud-based artwork inventory system that our global community of artists, collectors and institutions have come to rely on to organize their most treasured earthly possessions. 

But, enough about us! We reached out to Jennifer Schipf, AXA XL's Global Chief Underwriting Officer for Fine Art & Specie, and posited five questions about art insurance in the era of climate change. 

Fortunately, there’s some good news — in this age of biblical disasters (plague, etc.), even an “act of God” is likely to be covered by a properly underwritten art insurance policy. For more silver linings, read on.

Jennifer Schipf, Global Chief Underwriting Officer, Fine Art & Specie, AXA XL. Right image by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

AA: After the recent flooding in Nashville, we would like to clarify what constitutes an "act of God" and if this is applicable in the case of fine art insurance. Are there any special kinds of natural disasters (wildfire, etc.) that are outside the scope of fine art insurance?

JS: Most art insurance is considered to be “all-risk coverage” for physical damage, which means if the policy doesn’t expressly exclude a peril (like an “act of God”), the policy would respond to a loss. Damage from most natural catastrophes is not excluded from art policies, but there tend to be specific terms and conditions for earthquakes, wind, or hurricanes. It’s important to understand a policy in advance of a loss occurring and brokers helping clients place their coverage can easily explain the nuances.


AA: Are there any types of art that are generally not covered by insurance? Why would a work of art, or collection of works, not be covered? 

JS: It’s rare to see a work excluded from coverage, so if an exclusion exists, it’s likely because there is a problem with the work or it presents a particularly higher risk than the rest of the collection. An outdoor sculpture in a hurricane zone or a glass sculpture without adequate physical protection in an earthquake zone might be examples, but even these high-risk situations are often covered by an art policy.


AA: Do you have any "best practice" tips for art collectors when it comes to insuring their collections? Essentially: what documentation is necessary to insure an art collection?

JS: Current values are very important to obtaining coverage. Qualified appraisers exist all over the world and auction houses sometimes provide valuation services as well. Condition reports are very helpful as are photographs of works for record-keeping purposes. Collection management services — such as Artwork Archive — exist to support these efforts.

AA: What is the general turn-around time on fine art insurance claims? How long does the process usually take and are there any ways to expedite it?

JS: It’s very difficult to provide payment timelines for claims as each loss is rather unique and each insurance company has its own services standards, but at AXA, we work to contact insureds immediately upon notification of loss and to stay in close contact throughout the claims process to manage expectations and avoid surprises along the way.


AA: What is your best piece of advice for art collectors who maybe don't understand the urgency of fine art insurance? 

JS: If you love your art, you’ve invested both your resources and your heart in your collection. Why would you not want to protect it as best possible? Art insurance is not as expensive as one might imagine and it costs nothing to obtain a quote for coverage.


Art insurance is the best defense against both "acts of God" and human error. The first step is organizing your collection with Artwork Archive — a secure database in the cloud — so you'll be ready if (and when) the levee breaks. To get more insights from experts like Jennifer, sign up for Artwork Archive's newsletter. 


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