Recent protests in Europe by climate activists targeting high-value works of art are raising concerns among museums, lenders and their insurers.
Museums should expect greater scrutiny of their security practices, but it is too early to say whether the attack will drive up prices in the art insurance market, experts say.
Last week, a court in the Netherlands handed down prison terms to two protesters who had tried to cling to the Johannes Vermeer painting “Girl With a Pearl Earring” at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague on 27 October.
In an incident on 22 October, mashed potatoes were thrown at “Haystacks”, a painting by Claude Monet, at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany, while activists threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh̵7;s “Fifteen Sunflowers” at the National Gallery in London on 14 October.
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre in Paris, which is protected by bulletproof glass and can only be seen from a distance, was smeared in cake in another incident in May.
In a Nov. 3 statement in response to the attacks, the New York-based Association of Art Museums and Directors said such protests are “misguided.”
Recent attacks have focused on very high-profile, high-value objects, said Rachel Myrtle, director, arts and crafts, at Aon PLC in London.
But the selected artworks are protected by glass or Plexiglas and are carefully selected “to ensure that there is some risk mitigation, even during the protest itself,” Myrtle said.
If one of the pieces was damaged, such as if mashed potatoes were smeared on the surface of the canvas, “that would be another level of criminal damage,” she said.
Some of the artworks that have been targeted are part of national collections, which are often covered by government reimbursement schemes, rather than commercial insurance, she said.
It’s not the first time artworks have been vandalized, said Patrick Drummond, Chicago-based director of art for the Americas at Axa XL, a unit of Axa SA. “The change here is that we’re now seeing activism,” where artworks are attacked “to advance a cause,” he said.
“Vandalism, destruction of the artwork is something that is considered a covered peril,” but there has to be physical damage for there to be a valid claim, Mr. Drummond.
Museums, risk managers and insurers must evaluate changing exposures in art risk, Mr. Drummond. If these types of attacks were to increase in frequency, there could be a pricing effect, he said.
Insurers and lenders are likely to ask more questions about security procedures and how museums plan to deal with these potential attacks, said Christian Bell, managing director of arts and crafts at Aon PLC in London.
Commercial insurance would typically respond by paying for the cost of restoration and for the depreciation of artwork, subject to individual policy terms, Bell said.
But a billionaire loaning his painting to a national exhibition is likely to look for coverage for full restoration and full depreciation, whereas in the case of a museum’s own collection, they usually have experts in-house who would restore the work, he said.
Clients who lend valuable artwork to museums ask a lot of questions, says Mary Pontillo, national art practice leader at Risk Strategies Co., which is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Risk management advice would include having artwork glazed or placed under UV Plexiglas, “but it’s a balancing act between protecting the artwork and allowing for a full aesthetic experience of the object,” Pontillo said.
Alarm systems that alert a guard in a gallery if a visitor has crossed a line on the floor are also recommended, she said. Another consideration is having multiple guards in each gallery, although that could be costly, she said.
Closed wings where only a few people at a time are allowed into an area and added security checks for access to exclusive items are possible, but most museums do not have the “bandwidth” to make these changes, said Philip Sunderland, New York-based assistant vice president , private customer service, art, jewelers block at EPIC Insurance Brokers.
The pieces targeted in the recent attacks appear to have been able to be preserved to their original condition very quickly, without any loss of value, Mr. Sunderland.
“Until something happens where it’s a total loss of $50 million or $100 million,” he said.