Showing posts with label art insurance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art insurance. Show all posts

January 11, 2019

Dorit Straus returns to Amelia this summer to teach “Insurance Claims and the Art Trade” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Insurance Industry Expert, Dorit Straus, a former Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, who is now an independent Art & Insurance Advisor.

Can you tell us something about your background and work? 

My educational background is in Middle Eastern archeology. I participated in geographical and archeological surveys and excavated in Tel Hatzor  in northern Israel.  The dig was under the direction of the famous archeologist Yigael Yadin, who went on to become Israel's deputy prime minister but also helped to acquire the Dead Sea Scrolls, identified the historical significance of Masada, and made Israelis in general feel more connected to their ancient past.   I also worked with Amnon Ben Tor, professor (emeritus) at the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University.

I then proceeded to work with objects at various museums such as the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. While there I curated an exhibition "Samaria Revisited,"an exhibit on Harvard University's 1918 Reisner /Harvard expedition.  I was lucky to find original field notes as well as many of the objects that were housed at the Harvard Semitic Museum.

I then changed my career course and joined the Chubb Group of Insurance companies as a property underwriting trainee - and that led to a 30 year career which culminated in creating a specialized fine arts discipline within the company  something that they did not have before.

I am very happy that after all these years I have come full circle back to my first passion, which is archeology and cultural preservation.  I was appointed in 2016 by President Obama to serve with ten other experts on the US State Department's , Office of the Inspector General "Cultural Property Advisory Committee" (CPAC), where the members, representing the interests of museums and the fields of archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, and other related areas do important work in preventing looted or illegally excavated objects from entering the US.

CPAC advises the Department on the actions the United States should take in response to requests from at risk source countries for assistance in protecting cultural property by enacting import restrictions using cultural memoranda of understanding.

We also support the source countries with resources and educational support through various mechanisms. You can learn more by checking the US State Department's web site.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

I think that I provide real life scenarios to explain the insurance transaction - it’s very much the way it is- not theoretical.  I think insurance touches many aspects of what people in the “arts” are involved in - they are just not aware of it.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

A better understanding how insurance can be one of the tools to help them view the entire picture.  Insurance underwriters work out the risk for insuring a particular object. To underwrite insurance means to accept financial responsibility for clients’ potential losses and this is something participants come to understand through my course. 

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

In the beginning, most participants come into the course without knowing anything about fine art insurance, so I start with the basics, illustrated by slides and actual cases. I am very open to discussion and questions as long as it relates to the subject matter. The last day of the course is the most fun with participant demonstrations of what they learned. We divide into teams and with a lot of role playing their are able to express what the enormous amount of learning they have gleaned as everything falls into place.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

I am impressed at how quickly they grasp things  I am particularly impressed how inventive and original the team presentations at the conclusion of the course are!

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

There are a lot of movies about art theft or forgery - most of them not realistic but still fun - like The Thomas Crown Affair. The movie Gambit with Cameron Diaz and Colin Firth and How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole  are good.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

ARCA's Provenance course and any of the sessions which touch upon the art market itself. 

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria?

Eat the fabulous food, visits local vineyards, walk through the olive groves, travel to the nearby towns, and also further away - take the opportunity of to explore and be in Italy.

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class?

Not anything funny, but I have Italian friends who I have known for 40 years.  Because of ARCA I am able to visit them every year either in Rome or at their seaside home south of Rome - it’s a real treat for me!

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

The conference is a great opportunity to learn about what is happening today in the art and cultural arena plus wonderful networking possibilities.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at  

Edgar Tijhuis at the ARCA Library
Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program. 

October 9, 2016

A Persian soldier from Persepolis loses his second home

In February 2014 ARCA wrote about a sandstone bas-relief panel then-titled, "Head of a Guard" stolen in September 2011 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and found 2000 miles away in Edmonton in February 2014. The relief was recovered thanks to a collaborative criminal investigation by the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with a Loss Adjuster from AXA Art.

At the time of the recovery, Clare Dewey, then a Claims Manager with AXA art in Canada stated that AXA's "responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts."
Achaemenid-era carving of Persian and Median soldiers in traditional
costume (Medians are wearing rounded hats and boots), in Persepolis, Iran
The Persian Achaemenid relief from Persepolis had been, at the time of its theft, part of the museum's permanent collection for decades. So imagine my disappointment when this photograph turned up on ARCA's Instagram feed.

A bit of follow-up research seems to indicate that the handsome soldier holding his weapon unfortunately is no longer part of the MMFA's collection and has entered the commercial art market as the piece is highlighted in an article by Royal Academy of Art's Charles Saumarez Smith and Sam Phillips titled What to see at Frieze 2016.   In the article, the pair pick out some of their favourite artwork at this year’s Frieze fairs in London and our little fella is one of them. 

The article opens with a high-resolution image of the Assyrian relief from Persepolis and goes on to state that it is located at the display stand of Sam Fogg near the show's entrance.  It mentions the relief being museum quality and that it was once part of the Montreal Museum of Art collection but makes no mention of its theft or why the piece apparently didn't return to the museum's collection after all. A guardian article states the piece is for sale for £2.2m. 

"As the curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). 

It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. 

The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011." 

As can be seen by this artworks presence in the London sale venue at Regent's park, insurance claims can get complicated when it comes to magnificent art works held by museums.  This is especially true when high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art are stolen and subsequently recovered years later.   

Who gets to keep an insured artwork usually depends on the policy-holder's "buy-back" rights; specifically written clauses contained in property insurance policies that insure against physical loss or damage of high-value tangible property. In many cases buy-back clauses give the insured, in this case a museum,  first rights when in comes to buying the object back from the insurance company.  The buy-back amount is usually the amount of the original physical loss payment plus, on some occasions, a loss adjustment fee. 

When things go missing, in-house counsel for museums and boards of trustees must manage the financial loss when these assets are stolen and then weigh if it is in the museum's best interests to buy the object back if and when they are found.  Sometimes museum's decline to do so, and sadly, as may be the case with this lovely example of Persian art of the Achaemenid period, sometimes a museum just doesn't choose to, or have the financial liquidity to do so, and the object then goes up for sale on the commercial art market. 

By Lynda Albertson

October 3, 2016

Conference: The International Arts & Antiquities Security Forum (IAASF)

The International Arts & Antiquities Security Forum (IAASF) will be hosted at the NewcastleGateshead Quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne, Friday, November 11, 2016 and will focus on various topics related to texisting or emerging threats and risks for those in the field interested in the protection of arts and antiquities.

Of benefit to security professionals and the wider heritage protection sector including, gallery owners, shippers, insurance companies and curators the event will include presentations on the importance of security in protecting culture and art, the scale of threat to UK arts and antiquities, the threat of terrorism as it relates to art and antiquities, operational best practices in crime prevention for museums and houses of worship, (both physical & technical) as well as how to protect art and antiquities during transit and the ever increasing roll of conservators in the field of heritage protection.

The content of the presentations has been specifically designed to enable everybody to take away a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the issues that exist, experiencing best practises and being exposed to great innovations; both technical and operational that will help reduce and manage risk.

The IAASF event will bring together an international range of presenters including

Director of Security, UK Christie’s London

National Security Adviser, Arts Council England

Owner and Managing Director of Trident Manor and Chair and IAASF Chair, IAASF

Founder and Director of AA&R -Art Analysis & Research Ltd.

Sr. Insurance Consultant, Former CEO, AXA Art

Security & Safety Manager, National Gallery of Ireland

Detective Superintendent - Major Crime, Organised Crime and Special Branch, Durham Constabulary

Archaeologist, Specialist in Conflict Antiquities

Executive Director, National Maritime Museum - Amsterdam and Advisor to the Dutch Government on Cultural Operations

Committee Chair, Cultural Properties – Houses of Worship, ASIS

Member of the Cultural Heritage Council, ASIS International

Paid registration to the International Arts & Antiquities Security Forum includes: 

  • Full day of presentations
  • Tea, coffee, snacks and lunch
  • Drinks reception served in the Riverside Terrace
For more information please see the Forum's website here. 

July 20, 2016

ARCA's Postgraduate Program: From the Eyes of a 2016 Student - Part II

I’m not sure whether it makes more sense to say that we’re only halfway through with the ARCA postgraduate program or that we’re already halfway through with the program. On the one hand, we have had the good fortune of hearing from six expert professors and have covered all sorts of ground—academic and professional terrain alike—in the study of art crime: from heritage law to art insurance, from art policing to forgery, and from museum security to war crimes. We’ve practically memorized most of the UNESCO conventions at this point, we’re capable of sketching out the infamous Medici trafficking organigram at the blow of a whistle, and we’re all pretty used to having revenge-fantasy dreams about prosecuting certain museums with less-than acceptable collection ethics and repatriating all of their loot.

On the other hand, however, it feels like we’ve only just arrived in Amelia and that there’s still a whole lot more for us to learn in the coming weeks about cultural heritage protection. We’ve yet to encounter the international art market or art criminology head-on, and we’re not quite sure whether we believe the Spanish or the British are more entitled to Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Moreover, we still don’t know how we would actually steal the Ghent Altarpiece or Munch’s The Scream and this makes me wonder: can anyone really fashion him or herself an art crime expert without knowing how to pull off a major museum heist? It’s probably a good thing that we’re only halfway done with the ARCA program, but I’ll share with you what we’ve covered in the courses so far since we are, after all, already halfway finished with the program.  

Following Duncan Chappell’s course our studies shifted from the subject of art law to its not-too-distant relative, art insurance. Dorit Straus, art insurance veteran and board member at AXA Art, served as the instructor for this course. Straus has had a lengthy and exciting career with all sorts of cinematic turns and climaxes. Its major plot twist: Straus began her career studying Near Eastern Archaeology and only later in life migrated into the world of art insurance. For those of us trained in the humanities—which is to say, with little to no background in the fine arts market—Straus guaranteed a convenient point of entry into the study of art insurance. Pairing her formal explanations with fascinating anecdotes, Straus shaped and colored the art insurance industry with remarkable and stunning mastery. By the end of the week Straus had students map out the entire process of acquiring art insurance coverage in role-play exercises—a form of evaluation that was, I am sure, most entertaining for Dorit herself.

We then heard from Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad, who covered lessons on the dark, seedy underbelly that is the black market. Ellis did a solid job explaining the ins and outs of INTERPOL and clarified the issues that police forces deal with in an event of art theft—issues that are quite distinct from the ones that insurers, collectors, or museums address. One of the recurring lessons that Ellis repeated over and over again was the importance of knowing one’s enemy.  Understanding the motives that animate an episode of art crime, Ellis stressed, is always integral to the investigation process. At the conclusion of his course Ellis held a charming cocktail gathering that was, I would hold, much needed after a tense week studying some pretty serious material.

ARCA founder Noah Charney took the reigns for our next course on forgery. Charney launched his weeklong course with an art history lesson in which students were asked to perform visual analysis on a set of Caravaggio paintings. This exercise offered an exciting opportunity for students to truly interface with the very objects that had been broached in previous courses but perhaps not formally or materially addressed. It was a delight to work through Caravaggio’s endlessly fascinating visual puzzles, and Charney’s thorough guidance and insightful explanations proved to be especially useful in our brief art historical investigation. The rest of the week was spent differentiating (conceptually) fakes from forgeries, discussing the psychological profile of art forgers, and reviewing some of the major historical cases that constitute Charney’s sector of the art crime world. With Charney still in town, ARCA held its annual interdisciplinary conference—an exciting three days of panel discussions that another student, Cate Waldram, will  be posting on in greater detail.

After a weekend of conference talks and cocktail parties ARCA students met with security pundit Dick Drent. Following 25 years in law enforcement, Drent joined the staff at Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands and continues to provide security advising through his consulting group, Omnirisk. Though Drent’s energy and countenance might feel as formidable and high-stakes as his work, the Dutch professor’s instruction was often light and playful—much like the goofy videos he would screen at the beginning of class too lighten the mood, especially since his course covers everything from everyday threats to Active Shooter incidents.

At the end of Drent’s class students carried out a security audit at a museum. In this exercise students set out to observe surveillance cameras, security guards, museum layouts, fire prevention strategies, smoke detectors, alarm systems, and so on. The exercise gave ARCA students a unique opportunity to spend a day at a museum not admiring precious artworks but instead observing the very security systems that attempt to protect these objects.

At the conclusion of Drent’s course students delved headfirst into “Art Crime During War” with Judge Arthur Tompkins. Tompkins’ hefty lesson plans and near-impeccable knowledge of world history made for an information-rich crash course in our study of art crime during conflict. At the outset of his first lesson Tompkins traced the origins of art crime all the way back to the ancient world.

The looting of what might be anachronistically termed “cultural property” often went part and parcel with military combat and imperial campaigns in the ancient world—thus giving birth to the lengthy history of what we now study as art crime. Tompkins then traversed the entire chronology of war—passing through the Middle Ages and early modernity until reaching the late twentieth century—and identified the various renditions of art crime that have plagued nation-states and peoples during times of conflict. By the end of the course students were asked to submit a paper detailing one particular episode of art crime that took place in the midst of combat. Students wrote about everything from plunders during antiquity to more recent art theft in the Middle East to the destruction of libraries in the American Civil War. 

So there you have it! We have covered vast terrain in the world art crime and are already halfway experts in the field. I’ll get back to you with more storytelling and info when we’re only a few short steps away from calling ourselves full-on, to-the-core certificate-ready professionals!

By:  Christopher Falcone

May 19, 2015

Ex-Art: a review of the Salvage Art Institute’s "No Longer Art" exhibit

By Hal Johnson, 2014 ARCA student and DNA Consultant


This fateful declaration greets visitors at the door to No Longer Art, an exhibit presented by the Salvage Art Institute (SAI) and Columbia University with the cooperation of AXA Art. In fact, the exhibit wouldn’t even be possible without the help of the insurance firm AXA because every piece on display is the remnant of an insurance claim. SAI, a non-profit organization, has accumulated a collection of damaged artworks deemed total losses by AXA after owner's claims are paid. The objects themselves are then consigned to a sort of purgatory by the insurer. Physically speaking they are still sculptures, drawings, photographs and painting; but their status as "art" has been officially revoked.

Or has it …? How was this exhibit like and yet unlike viewing “real” art? The show space itself is a small meeting room at the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Dozens of ex-artworks cluttered the room on wheeled carts as if they had been pulled directly from storage. But this is not careless curation. Each numbered piece comes with corresponding documentation of the original insurance claim (with specific details appropriately redacted) in  booklets mounted on small shelves against the walls of the room. I found myself trying to match up claims with the carts that had been shuffled around by previous visitors. The stories of damage and destruction are on display as much as the objects themselves. Unlike the shattered “Balloon Dog” by Jeff Koons, some damage (as described) wasn't readily apparent to me. More than once I had to look hard for it -- I had no luck spotting the "mold contamination" on one drawing.

Viewers can handle everything on display which was definitely the best part of the experience. "When else will you touch a Jeff Koons?" said a visitor as she and her friend attempted to fit the broken pieces of shiny red ceramic back in place. A certain reverence has been removed by no longer calling these objects "art" and declaring them void of all monetary value. This change carries with it an immunity to further harm. I ran my hand across a graphite/paper diptych by Linda Bond and came up with smudged fingers. I would never do such a thing in a traditional gallery or museum! And yet being able to touch this “stuff” that was made by accomplished, even famous, artists somehow made them seem more real. I didn’t revere these objects but still respected them and their creators.

It’s one thing to damage an artwork irreparably. To actually rescind an object’s identity as "art" requires some clever wordplay. An exhibit like this comes with its share of rhetoric. According to SAI, “the signature of the adjuster meets and cancels the signature of the artist.” “Salvage art,” “total loss” and “transformation” are a few more tools in their lexicon. In her Chicago Tribune review, columnist Lori Waxman perceives the salvaged art as "invisible" pieces "hidden in plain sight".

I felt like I had walked into an haute version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Rather than cast their collection as misfit art, SAI chose to curate No Longer Art with empowering rhetoric – freedom! Through damage and destruction, these pieces have been “liberated from the obligation of perpetual valuation and exchangeability.” The mercurial art market is implied to be a source of oppression. And that cluttered, moveable layout? It is an intentional statement of democracy – no art historical hierarchy or classification system governs this exhibit. The order of the pieces can be changed at will by the viewers themselves.

SAI is actively developing plans for a permanent exhibit space in New York City. In the meantime, No Longer Art is open at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and runs through June 26, 2015. The University of Chicago will present a special symposium in conjunction with the exhibit on June 5 from 3-6 pm. The event is called Salvage Art 2.1 (2.0 took place last month) and will be led by Dr. Christine Mehring, chair of the university’s Art History Department.

January 17, 2015

Retired insurance executive Dorit Straus returns to teach "Insurance Claims and the Art Trade" in Amelia this summer

Dorit Straus, retired insurance executive
Dorit Straus, retired Chubb Insurance executive specializing in fine art, will be returning to Amelia to teach "Insurance Claims and the Art Trade":
My academic training was at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the department of Archeology - at that time the head of the department was Yigael Yadin, whose father was known for the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He himself was famous for the excavations at the breathtaking desert palace of King Herod at Masada. During my studies, Yadin was involved in Hazor, another major excavation in Northern Israel. It was exciting to participate in such high profile digs. My career moved into the museum field and I worked at the Jewish Museum in New York and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. At one point, I decided to make a 360 degree shift and somehow came towards fine art insurance, which started a 30 year career with the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. It may seem unlikely to take that kind of a career path, but ultimately it was a completely rational progression whereby the skills that I acquired in the academic and the museum world matched the corporate needs of the insurance company. It was a very good partnership whereby I benefited from learning about the business world and applied those skills to fine art clients, whether they were private collectors, galleries or cultural institutions. 
In the insurance process the key to profitability means choosing the right customers, at the right premium and then providing them with means to protect and preserve their property - analyzing these variables can make the difference between making a profit or having a loss. Providing the risk management and risk prevention is an essential benefit to the art community. In my role as an insurance executive I made sure that there was an equal balance between these demands and that the art community would benefit from an innovative approach to risk prevention. During my tenure at Chubb, we developed specific products to benefit the art community such as the Museum and Cultural institution program and an art gallery program. We came up with software products to help museums and cultural institutions manage their collection as well as infra red testing to detect hot spots in the walls that may mean that there was an electrical problem which could lead eventually to a fire. Preventing losses meant that one had to analyze the risk to make sure of the integrity of the insured - quite often I came across potential insureds who had questionable reputation or they were out right criminals. Many times it was a question of fraudulent valuations, either inflating values or trying to pass on a fake as the genuine item - catching these types of bad risks can be thrilling!
Almost everyone has some sort of a involvement with insurance, but most people do not understand the insurance transaction and have all kinds of misunderstandings of the process. In my course, I will cover the fundamentals of art insurance, the relationship between the different players and how the process actually works! We will address the different needs of the private collectors, museums and commercial galleries and focus on actual cases of art fraud and how the insurance transaction will or will not respond. We will also look at ways in which bad risks can be improved and we will demonstrate that through case studies in which theoretical and practical approaches will be taken. Those students who plan to move into positions in the art industry will find the course to be very useful in their future career. With so much in the news about art theft, fraud and fakes, and residual WWII issues, the course will be both relevant and timely. 
On the final days students will be divided into 4 teams in which they will create scenarios including role plays to reflect what they have learned during the course. These scenarios will be judged on their originality, reality and creativity of presenting an insurance risk, a claim situation and determine if its a covered loss, and if not, why not. 
There are several films that I would recommend: “How to Steal a Million" with Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn is a fun movie that touches on many points that are relevant ( but not necessarily realistic) to the insurance course, also "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "Entrapment" and -- a very good documentary about art theft -- is “Stolen” by Rebecca Dreyfus.

Ms. Straus serves on the board of directors of AXA Art and Crozier Fine Art. She is also an insurance consultant for Art Recovery International.

Ms. Straus recently wrote in an email: "I started a project working with artists in the Hudson Valley in New York State called Art Hudson/Farm to Frame, bringing collectors and artists together, to support the arts and preserve farmlands. In 2014, we visited studios of Judy Pfaff; the private gallery of Steven Holt "T Space" with Carole Schneeman; and a visit to the new space of Jack Shainman "The School".  Each event included a sumptuous farm to table lunch by top local chefs - and the events also support the great works of Scenic Hudson a not for profit environmental Advocacy organization!
Exciting events are planned for spring and fall of 2015 - stay tuned!" 

June 17, 2014

ARCA Lecturer Dorit Straus Elected to Board of Directors for AXA Art

Art insurance specialist AXA Art announced last week the election of fine art insurance expert Dorit Straus to its Board of Directors:
Ms. Straus is an accomplished professional with a successful career in providing solutions on art and insurance matters, globally. She is widely recognized for her expertise in insurance and risk transfer needs of museums and cultural institutions, auction houses, galleries and private collectors. She has broad proficiency in legal issues relating to confiscation, repatriation and provenance.... For over 30 years, Dorit Straus has been an important contributor to the fine art insurance industry. She has authored commentary on the implications of art theft on the insurance industry and on insuring art. She currently serves on the faculty of ARCA (the Association for Research on Crimes Against Art) teaching a course on art crime and insurance in Amelia, Italy.
Ms. Straus will teach "Insurance Claims and the Art Trade" in July. She also recently joined Chris Marinello at Art Recovery International.

August 2, 2013

Report from ARCA in Amelia: Dorit Straus teaches "Insurance Claims and the Art Market"; Erik Nemeth finishes course on cultural security; and students visit Pompeii and Oplontis with Acting Academic Director Crispin Corrado

Dorit Straus
by Summer Kelley-Bell, ARCA Intern

This week brought us the amazing Dorit Straus, who taught "Insurance Claims and the Art Market".  Until her recent retirement, Ms. Straus worked as the Worldwide Fine Art Specialty Manager for Chubb Personal Insurance. Prior to that, she studied archaeology at Hebrew University and worked in a variety of different museums. The combination of these two careers meant that Ms. Straus was able to offer us a truly unique classroom experience. Her class was shorter than most, a mere two and a half days to the usual five, but by the end the students were clamoring for more time. Through her, we learned about the complexities involved in insuring different types of collections and the steps that are taken in the event of a loss. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that her class was the sleeper hit of the summer. Who would have guessed that art insurance could be so fascinating? In this case, I think we owe a lot to our professor. Ms. Straus was able to distill the important concepts of the art insurance world in understandable and interesting ways. Towards the end of her section, she had the class split into groups to create our own insurance situation. This process helped to solidify the ideas we had been presented with in class and was an excellent means of studying for Straus’ final test. 

Ms. Straus’ class was offset by the end of Dr. Erik Nemeth’s section on cultural security. For the end this class, we looked at the idea of legalizing the trade in antiquities as a possible way of stopping destruction of sites. This sparked intense debate among the students and led to some rather entertaining class discussions. Dr. Nemeth’s class finished up with an epic exam where students were asked to find a way to encourage different groups of people to care about art crime. We were told to come up with a project and try to find funding for it in sectors that do not usually work within the art world. It worked well as a way to sum up everything Dr. Nemeth had been teaching us about interdisciplinary collaboration and how it can be used to help protect art.

"Ducks" of Oplontis
We finished out the week with a trip to Pompeii and Oplontis, led by the always amazing Dr. Crispin Corrado. Dr. Corrado, an archaeologist based out of Rome, gave us a guided tour unlike any other.  We learned about Pompeii: from its humble beginnings, to its fiery end. A few of the students even took a side trip to the House of the Fawn and the Villa of Mysteries. The villa especially was a big hit as it is so beautifully preserved. After a brief break for lunch, we head over to the villa at Oplontis, where I had a minor fit over some very small paintings of ducks. The villa is filled with fantastic frescoes—the reds and golds remain so vibrant that it almost hurts your eyes to look at them. For me though, the most amazing paintings were the hallway frescoes. These simple paintings, which were made to look like marble, have an unassuming boarder of small animals: deer, panthers, and ducks.  The ducks, while of no real importance and placed so high on the wall as to be almost invisible, illustrated for me the love that went into decorating this house.  It was a home, one to which people surely wanted to return.   

For years scholars believed that this sea facing villa was uninhabited at the time of the eruption as there were no human remains found in the Villa "A" portion of the structure.  Even so, walking through its many rooms gave me a very real sense of their presence.  This viewpoint changed dramatically when researchers discovered 54 skeletons in one of the large ground-floor rooms in the Villa "B" portion of the site, an area that opens onto the southern portico.  Here, men, women and children, some rich, others apparently not, had gathered to wait, perhaps hoping rescue from the unfolding tragedy would come from the sea.

The fact that we can still learn new things from a site such as Oplontis over the course of many years  underscores why we need to not only protect sites such as this from decay, but to continue studying them.  We can learn many things about our past from Oplontis and its marvelous ducks and if we teach people about the importance of preservation instead of just herding tourists through by the thousands, we might be able to protect our cultural heritage long enough to uncover even more important discoveries about our past.   

I have learned to love the villa at Oplontis and I will never look at ducks, or those who painted them, the same again.

June 2, 2011

Thursday, June 02, 2011 - , No comments

ARCA 2011 Student Tanya Lervik Eyes the Insurance Companies and Art Crime

ARCA Blog: What is your academic background and how did you come to commit to a summer in Umbria studying art crime?
Tanya: I have a generalist background with a B.A. in French from the University of Wyoming and an M.B.A. from Thunderbird School of Global Management. While studying, I did stints as an exchange student for a year in France and a summer in China. Also, for the past fourteen years, I’ve had the great good fortune to travel fairly extensively in Europe and Asia with some of the world’s finest orchestral and choral musicians as part of my work with specialty tour operator, Classical Movements. Because of my long-term interest in art and culture, whenever possible I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to visit many museums along the way. My interest in studying art crime has developed over the years, but was first sparked while taking American Society of Appraisers courses on art and antiques appraisals. The topic came up in the context of establishing the provenance and value of objects, and had so many fascinating facets to consider that I was hooked! ARCA’s program seemed like a natural extension of this interest I’ve been pursuing on my own for years.
ARCA Blog: The program culminates in the writing of a publishable article. What area of art crime or cultural protection would you like to research?
Tanya: Though one might think art theft is a fairly narrow topic, in fact there are so many interesting aspects to this question that it could be hard to choose. However, I’m leaning toward finding a topic that focuses on the role of insurance industry in the arts and antiquities market because so many different factors come into play – establishing authenticity, provenance, evaluating risks of theft and damage, investigating losses, and seeking retrieval of lost or stolen items. Also, fortunately, the world seems to be increasingly aware of the problem of art looted during periods of war as well as through the opportunistic antiquities looting endemic in so many countries. I’m interested to know if and how the insurance industry may be responding to this trend.
ARCA Blog: Do you have a current fascination with an artist or period of art?
Tanya: I’m attracted to beauty throughout the world and throughout the ages. What I find most interesting is what happens when there is an exchange of ideas between cultures or eras - how has Asian art affected European art and vice versa, for example. My brain is wired to look for cross-disciplinary links as well. Italy is one country I’ve yet to explore, so I’m very excited to be spending an extended period in this historically important cradle of artistic ingenuity.

January 21, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011 - , No comments

Profile: ARCA lecturer Dorit Straus on insuring art

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Dorit Straus, Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, a division of Federal Insurance Company, will again teach the course, Investigation, Insurance and the Art Trade, in Amelia at ARCA’s 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies program. Straus’ course discusses fine art insurance; the role of the insurance company, the agent and the broker; the insurance contract; risk analysis and selection; losses and claims; theft losses; and interaction with police and law enforcement.

Ms. Straus published an article, “Implications of Art Theft in the Fine Art Insurance Industry”, in Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Edited by Noah Charney) that explains the relationship between insurance and art theft. She has also written a chapter on insuring art in a book by Diane McManus Jensen, Valerie Ann Leeds, and Ralph Toporoff, The Art of Collecting: An Intimate Tour Inside Private Art Collections with Advice on Starting Your Own (Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd, 2010).

Ms. Straus, the Worldwide Fine Art Specialty manager for Chubb Personal Insurance, joined Chubb in 1982. Prior to Chubb, she studied archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, lectured on Biblical Archeology and worked at several museums (The Jewish Museum, The Peabody Museum of Ethnography at Harvard University, and the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York, now known as the Museum of Art and Design). She has underwriting experience in Property, Casualty, and Entertainment as well as fine art. She was a key member of OBJECT ID of the Getty Institute, which established universal criteria for describing works of art. She speaks on art and insurance at international venues including seminars on risk management for museums and cultural institutions at Shanghai University. She was the keynote speaker at a fine art risk management seminar sponsored by the government of Taiwan; a featured speaker at a conference at Dresden, Germany; and a panelist at a seminar on art theft at Cambridge University, United Kingdom, where she met Noah Charney, ARCA’s founder.

ARCA blog: You’ve been quoted in the press that the most common art insurance claim stems not from theft, but from damage done while the art work is in transit.
Ms. Straus: Actually, its damage from a variety of causes not just damage in transit. In severe winter weather, it is not uncommon to see a lot of water damage claims to fine art. For example, excess weight of snow resulting in roof collapses and seepage of water from various sources including below grade seepage. During the summer we see water damage to fine art as a result of severe rains or air conditioners that leak and saturate walls along with the art that hangs on that wall.

Fire, smoke and soot also are major perils that we see on a regular basis. Improper packing or crating and poor installation are also common causes of loss.

I do not mean to minimize theft as an important cause of loss, but as I have written in various articles, there are ways to prevent theft through central station alarms, and through inspections by the insurance company of the premises to point out the weak spots in the security system.

What is much harder to predict is when a dealer who has been in business for many years, goes rogue and starts selling art on consignment in violation of his consignment agreements and or selling the works and not remitting the proceeds to the owners. This can become more prevalent during bad economic times.
ARCA blog: You’ve also said that when a museum purchases insurance to protect its collection, the insurance companies follow up with security inspections and risk management recommendations such as how to protect the art against damage from fire.
Ms. Straus: This statement needs to be qualified. Not every insurance company has staff on hand that can go out and inspect the museum facilities. So it should be a very important consideration by the people responsible for purchasing the museum insurance policy to ascertain if the company has such capabilities. They should also be looking at the caliber of the people who are doing the inspection. The risk management assessment should include not just the security system and its components, but also the fire protection and procedures, including the adequacy of the fire suppression capabilities of the museum and the local fire department. They should be looking at protective devices as well as the human element. Are employees vetted? Do they undergo periodic background checks? Is there dual accountability? There are lots of other considerations that should be taken into account to address and prevent insider theft.
ARCA blog: It’s too expensive for museums to insure their entire art collection. Do they select a blanket limit up to a certain amount that would cover any paintings stolen from the collection? And do insurance companies get nervous when there’s a rare painting by van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt or any other artist that seems to attract thieves?
Ms. Straus: The way museums purchase insurance varies and each museum, unless it is a governmental entity, makes those decisions based on their own assessment of risk taking. In the US, most museums are private not-for-profit organizations with a board of directors who make those decisions. Also, those decisions are made based on the size of the collection, the type of collection, and by the finances of the institutions. Major art museums are going to take a different approach than historical societies, or a natural history museum.

Many museums in Europe are state owned and therefore the decision making on risk transfer is not their own, but is directed through a governmental entity. There are also government indemnity programs that are similar to purchasing private insurance. However, generally when museums borrow from one another or from private collectors the risk transfer then is typically insured for the value of the loan amount.

When underwriting a museum, one considers the total collection and evaluates the exposures as a whole; one does not look at individual works by certain artists and decide that those are more attractive to a thief.
ARCA blog: You once said that stolen works of art are only recovered 10 percent of the time and, on average, take 20 years to be recovered. Are you surprised when objects are noticed in pre-sale catalogues by large auction houses? Do you expect that they should have done more due diligence or examined the painting’s provenance before listing the work for sale? Is provenance research too time consuming for many of these art houses?
Ms. Straus: I am not surprised that items are flagged as stolen in pre-sale catalogues. The sheer volume that goes through the auction houses is so enormous and rapid. Very often these works have already passed through several owners before they reach the auction house, and these owners may indeed be “innocent purchasers”. I do expect, however, that the auction houses conduct due diligence investigations when they sense that there may be something wrong with the consigners or the work itself, whether it’s a question of illegal ownership or authenticity.
ARCA blog: What kind of art insurance issues have kept you up at night, metaphorically speaking, in the past six months? What do you see as the riskiest areas in insuring art?
Ms. Straus: We have been going through terrible economic times, so I am concerned about moral hazard either by fraudulent insurance claims or from dealers who are stealing from their clients.

I am also particularly concerned about the trend of art as investment and regarding art as an asset class. I don’t want to generalize, but when you start thinking about art as a commodity rather than as an object that expresses our humanity and our culture, it loses its importance and it becomes interchangeable solely as a money exchange. Maybe I am naïve, but when you value something for more than its monetary value you have a personal stake in it along with making sure that you invest in protecting it properly.
The application deadline is today, January 21, for ARCA's 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.