How to Collect: Looking After Your Collection

4 April 2012
How to Collect: Looking After Your Collection

Looking after your collection


  • A collector should have specialist insurance in place specifically for contemporary artworks, including worldwide coverage where a collector is active overseas.  This should be done through an intermediary or specialist broker who can put together an insurance package tailored to suit their needs.
  • Assuming a collector displays their collection at home, it is generally more economical to include them in household insurance than on an item-by-item basis.
  • It is useful to have an `acquisition clause’ enabling the holder to add extra works within a 2 month window, ensuring new items are covered as soon as they are purchased and while in transit.
  • Typically the purchaser should take responsibility for the insurance of the work from the gallery from the point of purchase to delivery.
  • It is important to ensure that art works are properly valued.  The current market value of the work can be obtained from the place from which it was purchased and it is advised to have works re-valued every few years.  The insurance company can also recommend a reputable professional valuer (ideally paid for their time rather than as a percentage of the total cost of the value of the collection).
  • Where a work is loaned to an institution it is preferable for the lender’s policy to cover the work, with the premium being paid by the borrower.  This means if any damage should occur, the piece is covered by the owner’s policy not the institution’s, and the lender is in control of the claim.
  • Where possible, a collector should try and stay with the same insurer – a long-term relationship enables claims to be amicable and flexible.

Packing & Transportation

  • Always use a reputable art handler and transport company which is a member of ICEFAT (International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters).
  • Handlers should use clean gloves.
  • All soft packing materials and boxes/cases should be to conservation standard.
  • Unframed and unbacked paintings should be fitted in travel frames.
  • Retain the packing the work came for – in a stable environment – for future use.
  • Where works are travelling internationally, the bespoke case needs to be made from materials that meet the international ISPM #15 regulations and the packer must confirm the case conforms to international aviation security standards.
  • Some works should not be tipped or leaned, or transported on their sides etc. so clear instructions must be given and assurances secured.
  • Where works are very valuable, vehicles used in transporting works should have security tracking, temperature controls, a barred and padded cargo area, tail lift and at least two men driver and technician crew.  Often a fully trained and briefed courier is used.
  • It is important to check all tax ramifications – taxes vary from country to country and can be charged against any commodity, including fine art.  A collector should always contact a reputable agent prior to importing or exporting work.


  • Take advice on installation at the point of sale.
  • If the work needs specialist installation, ask the gallery for a recommended agent.
  • Ensure the works cannot slip, fall or topple over.  Bases should be stabilised and glass or plastic covers provided for the most delicate sculptures, and where appropriate, plinths.
  • All art works prefer stable conditions – avoid hanging works in areas where heat and humidity conditions change regularly, e.g. above radiators or on window sills etc.
  • Use a reputable framer who uses conservation and archival mount boards and materials, and glazing options that provide UV protection, including fillets to prevent the artwork touching the glazing.
  • Spotlights can expose the work to excessive heat
  • The optimum storage conditions for most art works are a cool dark environment with relative humidity stabilised between 40 and 60%.

Conservation & Maintenance

  • A soft dry clean brush or duster is fine for most glazed works and sculptures.
  • Avoid the use of polishes, waxes and solvents unless advised by a conservator.
  • Avoid using water or other liquids, especially on unsealed porous materials, e.g. plaster, stone or terracotta.
  • Do not spray window-cleaner directly on a framed print or photograph as it can seep into between the frame and glass and stain the artwork.
  • Do not touch sculptures with bare hands – oils and salts attract dirt and corrode metal.   Use a clean dry cloth if you have touched them with bare hands.
  • Minimise the risk of delicate and unstable artworks coming into contact with animals or children.
  • With time-based media, good conservation practice is to preserve the master material and create copies for exhibition.  The hands on business of conserving film, video and electronic art is carried out by technical specialists, which can be recommended by the artist or dealer.
  • When accidents happen act quickly and take professional advice!


It is good practice to document your collection by recording the following details on each work acquired:

  • Artist’s Name
  • Title of Work
  • Date of Work
  • Media
  • Dimensions
  • Edition details if applicable
  • Location
  • Image of work
  • Display requirements
  • Condition reports
  • Purchase date
  • Purchase price
  • Insurance value
  • Revaluations
  • History of loans and related paperwork
  • Transport history


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