A Balanced Approach: Seismic Isolator Pedestals
In earthquake-prone zones, seismic activity can be a very real threat. Top-heavy works of art often topple or sustain fracturing damage when subjected to seismic activity, and one museum decided to do something about it. The Getty Museum put together a team of engineers and conservators to develop seismic isolation pedestals that absorb the earth’s movement and radically improve the chances that an artwork will survive such an event intact.
The pedestals look like average pedestals but are utterly advanced in their functionality. Utilizing the laws of physics to mitigate the force of the quake, each pedestal comprises two plates that move independently of each other on the same horizontal plane. Rollers allow the plates to move while springs control the motion and absorb the seismic activity. The isolator does not stop the force of the earthquake, but greatly lessens its impact.
These pedestals are not currently in mass production, but the Getty Museum is happy to share its technology with institutions and collectors.
Safety First: Object-specific Security
One of the current directions in collection security is to protect objects by alarming them individually. The latest device in this sector is Art Guard MAP (Magnetic Asset Protection). As the name suggests, MAP utilizes magnetic resonance to protect valuable assets. New York based security company Art Guard started installing MAP sensors in museums and private collections in the Northeast recently.
MAP is unique in its ability to alarm almost anything, hanging or seated, even the smallest and most delicate objects. And unlike RFID technology (Emerging Technologies; a Brave New World for Museums and Collectors, July 2007), the batteries never touch the artwork. Imagine trying to put an alarm on a small sculpture, a piece of jewelry or a bottle of wine. Until now the best way to protect them has been to lock them away or hope for the best. Art Guard President Bill Anderson is almost exuberant as he explains how MAP works: “The MAP technology detects the movement of a small, rare earth magnet. Once the magnet is attached to the artwork, the sensor is positioned and the relationship between the magnet and sensor is confirmed, movement of either the sensor or the asset will trigger an alert. The MAP sensor is placed nearby—either behind a hanging piece or beneath the supporting surface of a seated work. Once a relationship between the magnet and the sensor is locked, movement of either the asset/magnet or the sensor triggers an immediate, location-specific alert to a control panel, which sets off an alarm or other customizable response.”
The MAP system consists of the magnets and sensor. It needs to be set up by your security company, likely with the help of an art handler. The MAP sensor communicates to your alarm system’s control panel, and you dictate what type of breech notification you want—a traditional audible alarm, an alert to your monitoring central station, a phone call or a text.
The smaller the artwork, the smaller the magnet. Anderson described how his company recently alarmed an antique quill pen in a prominent museum collection. “MAP is revolutionizing how some museums are displaying work, and it will change the display landscape of objects in private collections as well,” he says.
The magnets come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are nickel-coated, corrosion resistant and highly polished to prevent abrasions. The smallest is a tiny disk, roughly the diameter of a pencil eraser and just 1/32” thick, small enough to affix to the underside of the feather quill that Anderson described. A large magnet can be a 1” cube. The size of the magnet and the density of the support material dictate the distance it can be placed from the sensor. Tiny magnets need to be four to six inches from the sensor; larger magnets can be up to 18 inches from the sensor.
I inquired into Art Guard’s claim that it can protect almost anything. Due to complications from magnetization, Art Guard does not recommend using the MAP system to protect watches. There may also be certain very delicate surfaces that, for conservation reasons, may not be conducive to magnet attachment—but very few. There are a number of ways to attach the magnet to the artwork. For instance a piece of jewelry might be alarmed with a piece of cotton thread. A tapestry might best be alarmed using the inherent magnetics—one magnet on either side of the textile. If the artwork is a vessel, the magnet can simply be placed inside. But many artworks need an adhesive, and most conservators recommend museum wax (an acid-free, inert wax), which functions as a simple and gentle connector for a wide variety of art works. Museum wax is able to secure a magnet to an object, and it also acts as a barrier for works that may require a buffer from even non-corrosive metals such as nickel. Museum wax is safe to use on wood, marble, crystal, glass, ceramic and porcelain.
Security specialists highly recommend redundant system for protecting artwork; a perimeter intrusion system doesn’t protect items from being stolen by people in the home, such as contractors, domestic help and sticky-fingered-guests, and perimeter security is typically turned off when the public is allowed to view an exhibit.
Smart Tool: Collection Management
They say that knowledge is power. If that is true, then one tool for building a powerful collection is to organize your collection with a robust art management system. The new kid on the block (this company is three years old) is Collectrium, whose namesake product is specifically designed to support the needs of private collectors.
Touted in its promotional material to be “revolutionizing the art world by creating a global platform for managing, discovering, sharing, and trading art and high-end collectibles,” Collectrium’s cloud-based, mobile collection management system enables collectors to apply current web based technology to collection management.
Collectrium has an intuitive, easy-to-use interface that works with or without an internet connection. Of course you can:
• See and organize your collection by custom criteria such as location, medium, theme, artist, decade, movement and status
• Store your collection-based documentation in one place: images, financial information, histories of offers and provenance.
• Attach legal documents; receipts, consignment agreements, condition reports, conservation records, appraisals, etc.
• Search your collection by any word or search term
Collectrium, however, also has a number of features you might not expect. Through strategic partnerships, Collectrium provides access to databanks of art support materials—auction results, estimate values, and artist biographies. You can create a timeline that notes specific details about items—the date the work was created, when it was purchased, when it was sold. You can share images via email while controlling the share time, allowing works to be viewed, for example, for three hours or three days. There are also two fun augmented reality functions. One allows mobile users to hold their smart device up to an artwork to reveal the artist, title, date and dimensions. The other lets users see what a particular artwork will look like on a particular wall.
Collectrium’s cloud-based model provides many advantages to the consumer. For instance, users do not need to update their software—that all happens automatically, without the user level support that would typically be required with locally maintained software. Outsourced software maintenance translates to lower consumer costs. Moreover, with a cloud-based service, collectors can access collection records from any computer or smart device.
The tradeoff for the ease of a cloud-based inventory management system is that all of your valuable information is stored in offsite systems, which can be a scary proposition,, but Collectrium is serious about data privacy and security. Boris Pevzner, Collectrium CEO and founder, has over 20 years as an IT security and privacy expert and has developed a four-tiered security protocol that protects client data. It is comprised of:
1. Data security – automated backup. Your data is stored on multiple, highly secure servers... if a server goes down, a backup server takes its place.
2. Infrastructure security – secure access, firewalls and 256-bit encryption on data in storage.
3. Application security – security setting options allow you to restrict access based on, for example, geography or on one's role in the organization; There is also 256-bit data encryption while your data is being transmitted to/from servers.
4. Internal access security – Collectrium restricts data access to its own employees, who go through multiple background checks multiple authentication protocols.
Overall, Collectrium is a savvy solution for collections spread out in multiple locations (homes, storage, and on loan), tech-loving collectors who appreciate the ease of use and active collectors who need up-to-date information on their art portfolio.
As with any traditional protection plan, no individual high-tech device can alleviate all concerns. However, utilizing the power and richly dynamic capabilities of recently developed high-tech solutions, a savvy collector can attain a level of knowledge, control, and safety that until now has never been possible.