A New Year means better care for your Collection

Easy ways to protect your collecting passion

A common New Year’s tradition is to make resolutions, so we’re offering an art collector’s version. Below find easy ways to protect your collecting passion with good intentions and best practices.

1. Remove art from your kitchen and bathroom

Yes, a Wayne Thiebaud painting of a cake looks thematically relevant in the kitchen. Yet the fumes, oils and changing temperatures could cause gradual damage over time. Thiebaud paintings with a sweet dessert theme can run in the six to seven figures, but if there is staining of the canvas due to smoke fumes, or flaking of the paint, there could be potential loss in aesthetic and financial value. Particles in smoke, oil fumes, detergents and sprays are called “agents of deterioration” by art conservators. Conservators spend a lot of time treating such damage.

The best way to prevent agents of deterioration is to not place artwork in rooms with extreme fumes (garage and kitchen) and extreme temperature changes (bathroom).


2. Dim the light

When considering the placement of valuable collectibles, whether sculpture, artwork, Persian rugs or Steinway pianos, consider the exposure to sunlight. Light damage is cumulative and, once sustained, irreversible. Light exposure can be divided into two general categories: ambient lighting of the overall space and task lighting of the objects. The most common culprit is the sunlight that streams through the window during the daytime when many of us are at work, and may be unaware of the sun’s rays falling on a valuable collectible.

The most common type of light damage is visible in changes of colored pigments or bleaching of wood artifacts (and in some cases darkening of some types of varnished wood). In addition, there are unseen chemical changes such as cross-linking of varnishes, and the physical breakdown or embrittlement of organic materials such as cellulose fibers.

Reducing the effect of light damage can therefore be done by lowering overall lighting levels as well as reducing the amount of time that artwork is lit.

Methods for reducing total light exposure include:

  • Window shades, films and filters
  • Decreasing the number of light fixtures
  • Decreasing the wattage of bulbs
  • Using light dimmers, viewer activated switches or motion sensors
  • Eliminating daylight (do not put art in the basement – but fragile works can go in hallway or areas where it is relatively dark)
  • Using low UV output light fixtures

For more tips, check out this article on lighting art at home. 


3. Dry January and beyond for artwork

Let’s look at the popular concept of “dry January” through an art collector lens. Water damage is the leading source of homeowner’s insurance losses, and therefore has the potential to damage your art and sculpture.

In the winter, frozen pipes may burst, backed up gutters can buckle and water can leak in through the roof. Protecting your home is one of the best ways to protect everyone and everything and in it, including your art.

Regular home maintenance is wise throughout the year wherever you live, but perhaps most important for those of us encountering colder winter climates and their accompanying risk factors. Berkley One Vice President of Risk Management Amanda McComas sheds light on the steps we can take to help ensure our homes are safe, secure, and ready for whatever winter brings.

It’s not only the inclement weather outside that can be a threat to your art. For example, let’s say you decide to place your framed Thiebaud in the living room, pro-actively away from the window and fireplace. This is good. However, the living room happens to be directly under the master bathroom on the second floor, so numerous water pipes may be running behind the wall where you hung your valuable frosted cake painting. Any concern here? Yes, leaky pipes can cause moisture behind walls, which can create mold, which can spread through the HVAC system in your home. In the event of a burst pipe, the water from the bathroom floor could leak into the living room below it. Water shut-off devices can help stop excessive water flow.


4. Protect art in the elements

Are you considering placing your artwork outdoors? Sculptures can animate a garden and become an important part of the landscape. Unfortunately, constant exposure to the elements, animals and even humans makes outdoor sculpture far more challenging to preserve than a work displayed indoors.

It is important to recognize that a sculpture displayed outdoors needs regular inspections and maintenance to ensure its long-term preservation.

This often does not require an extensive investment of time. Cleaning done at least annually can mitigate the dangers of outdoor display and help detect damage in its early stages. For example, rinsing a sculpture with water removes soil, industrial particulates, bird droppings, and other pollutants.

If you live in a climate with cold winters, your sculptures can be vulnerable to freeze/thaw cycles and the efflorescence of soluble salts. Double check to make certain the materials in your sculpture are appropriate for outdoor placement. We always suggest getting care instructions from the artist and/or gallery where you purchased the artwork .

If you live in a climate vulnerable to tropical storms, make a contingency plan for removing the sculpture in the event of high winds and gale force winds. Alternatively, consider protecting outdoor sculptures with scaffolding and tarp coverings. More tips are available in our webinar on best practices for preparing your home and collections for hurricanes.


Katja Zigerlig is Vice President of Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).