Fears that other groups might join in the attacks
Some insurers only cover work behind glass.
Inflation will also drive up premiums.
The risk of floods and fires creates an additional burden
Carolyn Cohn, Noor Zainab Hussain and Barbara Lewis
LONDON, Nov. 25 (Reuters) – Climate activists’ attack on some of the world’s most valuable paintings has exacerbated insurers’ concerns about the threat to art from climate change itself, which is thought to be driving higher art insurance premiums.
In recent weeks, activists have drawn attention to the climate issue by pouring tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London and black liquid on Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life at the Leopold Museum in Vienna to protest the use of fossil fuels.
The paintings were behind glass or a screen, and a spokesman for the National Gallery said there was only “minor damage” to the frame of the Sunflowers.
The Leopold Museum said Klimt was unharmed but did not respond to a request for further comment.
However, many in the art and insurance world say it may only be a matter of time before the art is destroyed, especially if the protests expand beyond climate activism.
Nearly 100 galleries, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Paris’s Louvre, issued a statement earlier this month saying activists “grossly underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects.”
“At this point, it’s just climate change activists who are basically middle-class liberals and don’t really intend to hurt the job,” said Robert Reed, arts executive and private client at insurance company Hiscox.
“What worries us is that this will spread to other protest groups that are less honorable and less caring.”
Even if the piece itself isn’t directly damaged, the cost of restoring the frame and reinstalling the painting can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, said Filippo Guerrini Maraldi, head of fine art at broker Howden.
“The risk profile has now changed. Insurers might say, “I want a little more money next year,” and “What are you doing about security?” Maraldi said, adding that art owners are starting to get nervous too.
“We have already had several requests from clients who may have exhibits in museums asking them to remove them.”
The art insurance market worldwide generates about $750 million in premiums. Premium rates rose by about 5% in 2020 and 2021 and have remained stable this year, but insurers expect them to rise.
PRESSURE ON PRIZES
Losses and insurance affordability levels tend to dictate premiums.
Regardless of climate protests, insurers and brokers have said that an increase in global warming-related fires and floods that have inspired activists is likely to push insurance premiums higher next year.
Inflation is also putting pressure on premiums.
Jennifer Schipf, global director of fine art and coin underwriting at AXA XL, said she expects reinsurers who insure underwriters to raise rates during the Jan. 1 extension period, which could impact the art market.
So far, the attacks have not resulted in claims, insurers and brokers say. It is not yet clear what the arrangements were with the Leopold Museum, but the British government bears the risk for the National Gallery’s permanent collections, a spokesman for the gallery said.
Major museums often rely on the government to provide financial security in the event of damage rather than seek out commercial insurance.
Commercial museums and galleries, however, buy art insurance, and its use is also more common among major museums in the United States than in Europe.
The premiums they pay have remained stable in part because broader fears of terrorist attacks and violence have tightened security in recent years, with more glass work and more security guards and bag searches.
In some cases, commercial insurers have also become more cautious: one insurer, which declined to be named, said it only insures works of art behind glass.
While five insurers contacted by Reuters said they are not yet factoring in climate attacks in premiums, some insurers say they are already facing cost increases.
Thomas Hampel, agent for the German artist ANTOINETTE, said insurance premiums for her work would rise by 12.5% next year, compared with a 3-5% increase in the previous three years.
In addition, the additional cost of safely displaying a large work of art will be €35,000 ($36,417) per 100 square meters of anti-reflective glass, in addition to transportation and assembly.
“We cannot afford these additional costs,” Hampel said.
According to Adam Prideaux, managing director of insurance broker Hallett Independent, the attacks could also eat up government insurance — the government insurance that covers major galleries when they display art they don’t own.
The Arts Council England, which provides such refunds, said in email comments that it could not provide any details of individual claims, but said that “only a small number of mostly minor claims have been made in the last ten years.” ($1 = €0.9611)
(Reporting by Caroline Cohn and Barbara Lewis in London and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bangalore; additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; editing by Elaine Hardcastle)