Thursday, May 17, 2007

Perishable Art

The Wall Street Journal this week looked at "how ... collectors preserve and insure works that may be short-lived -- often by design":

"Some of the priciest contemporary works -- such as Damien Hirst's dead shark in a tank and Jeff Koons's 40-foot-high topiary puppy -- are made from perishable or delicate materials whose deterioration isn't covered by insurers. Other works ... use synthetic paints that may not hold up over time and aren't easily restored .... Some installation pieces are even meant to disappear over time."

The article points out that these works create all sorts of insurance complications:

"Insurance policies almost always rule out insuring art objects for 'inherent vice,' which includes natural deterioration such as rot and mold, or mechanical wear and tear. Vermin and insect damage, which affect textiles and objects made from organic materials, are also excluded from coverage. Insurance policies cover only damage from unexpected events like fire, theft and accidents. Because of the difficulty of restoring some fragile contemporary artworks, some art insurers are charging as much as double the premium they would charge for more durable pieces such as oil paintings. Policies also may stipulate that collectors take painstaking conservation efforts, such as controlling light and temperature in the environment, as a condition of providing coverage. If the conditions aren't met, claims won't be paid."

Lawprof Frank Pasquale says, with works of this sort, "we might expect all manner of contractual specs to accompany purchases," and connects this story to one by Marc Spiegler in New York Magazine not too long ago, about the young artist Terence Koh:

"What’s shocking is that collectors are willing to pay such prices for pieces of uncertain durability. From the beginning, Koh has made a habit of using unusual materials: chocolate, semen, blood, vomit, Chanel lipstick. At first, Koh and [and his dealer Javier] Peres made the mistake of selling the work without detailing its fragility. 'In our rush, our naïveté, it seemed clear that this work was going to change—I mean, it was made of ashes and chocolate. And collectors would later come and say, "This broke, can you fix it?"' Peres recalls. 'Now, no work of Terence leaves my gallery without a release, because his materials are quite unusual."