Fine art warehouses play a critical role in safeguarding cultural property belonging to private collectors, museums and galleries world-wide. While the insurance industry has been inspecting fine art warehouses for quite some time, a group of fine art storage companies has been working together to create a set of guidelines intended to raise the bar within their warehouses.
Historically speaking, the fine art warehouse industry is relatively new in the United States. Prior to WWII, the art capitals of the world were located in Europe. The war, however, caused many great artists and collectors to move to the U.S., suddenly making post-war New York the center of the art world. At the time, there were very few galleries or active collectors in the U.S., but with the rise of abstract expressionism in the 1950's, and Pop Art in the 1960's, the New York art world exploded; the modern American fine art collector and gallerist were born.
Prior to the 1970's, fine art in the United States was stored in household and common goods warehouses. These facilities, while adequate for storing low value wares, were ?and still are ? unequipped to store fine art. They lack the level of security, fire protection, pest protection, and climate control that fine art requires, and their staffs have not been trained in the fine art handling skills essential to the safekeeping of valuable and fragile objects.
With the rise of the art market in New York, a new type of warehouse was created ? the commercial fine art storage warehouse. Over the past 30 years this industry has undergone tremendous growth. Hundreds of very good art warehouses have emerged around the globe. While growth within the commercial fine art warehouse industry is ultimately good for all cultural property, the industry is currently subject to a confluence of factors, which make it more necessary than ever to look at the quality of fine art warehouses around the world.
The primary factor contributing to the need for regulation is the escalating market values for art; as market values increase, the art market is stimulated. This increase in the market and in market values has lead to rapid growth within the fine art storage business. There are also increasing physical risks for warehouses, including theft, terrorism and, in some locations, a tendency towards increasingly severe and frequent weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons.
Right now, warehouses worldwide contain a higher dollar amount of artwork than ever before recorded. Yet, some of the competing facilities are inexperienced and, based on values alone, it is important to separate quality warehouses from below average warehouses. It is also necessary to recognize that the international fine art storage industry is a de facto network. For example, when a painting is shipped from New York to Paris, it is essential for the New York warehouse to know that the Paris warehouse has similar high standards of operation in both its practices and physical plant.
Two years ago, Bob Crozier, President of Crozier Fine Arts, Inc., in New York, recognized a growing problem and proposed a storage standards project to the International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters (ICEFAT), a professional organization dedicated to promoting the highest standards of professionalism within the fine art storage and transportation industry. ICEFAT represents a select group ? new members must be sponsored by a current member, and be voted in by the entire organization ? of 78 companies from 34 countries around the world. Crozier was named chairman of the newly formed ICEFAT Storage Guidelines Committee and set out to create a document that would help address the growing problems within his industry. In his address at the 2006 ICEFAT conference, Crozier stated, "Our worldwide membership of commercial fine art warehouses is proud to take the leadership of this effort, which will ensure the safety and viability of the art entrusted to our care.?
Over the last two years, the committee has been in dialogue with recognized third-party professionals in the museum, security and insurance sectors in order to create a comprehensive document providing direction to commercial fine art warehouses for increasing security and safety of fine art collections while in storage. Some of the contributors were the American Association of Museums (AAM), Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, the Inland Marine Underwriter's Association (IMUA), Lloyd's of London syndicates and Global Risk Partners, a risk management consulting firm.
With the input of these industry professionals as well as their own experienced members, the ICEFAT Storage Guidelines Committee identified nine critical areas ? each a discipline unto itself ? that define the job of a fine art warehouse professional. Though the results of the committee?s significant efforts have currently been released as guidelines, it is their hope that they will eventually become standards, vetted through the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) and ultimately the International Organization for Standards (ISO).
The nine categories, briefly described below, contain over 200 individual guidelines that go well beyond simple physical plant upgrades. There are suggested procedures and policies, training techniques, and a series of checks and balances to make sure all of the systems are in place, working and documented.
1. Facility ? provides specifications for proper building construction, use, location and proximity to public emergency responders.
2. Security ? delineates the correct procedures, alarms and access controls to secure the warehouse and storage rooms against external theft.
3. Fire ? diagrams the precautions, warning and suppression systems and tests that should be observed in order to prevent fire.
4. Climate Control ? summarizes how a facility should regulate heating, cooling, humidity and ventilation systems for various types of storage.
5. Water ? defines the best protocols for controlling water within a facility from floods, plumbing, HVAC and sprinkler systems. This section also reviews the best methods of protecting artwork against water damage.
6. Infestation ? presents an integrated plan and testing checklist to protect against vermin.
7. Inventory Control ?describes in detail the documentation and protocol required to actively keep track of in-coming and out-going inventory and protect against internal theft.
8. Human Resources ? covers proper hiring and training procedures and policies, with specific notes for hiring security and art handling personnel.
9. Emergency Planning - documents how to formulate a facility emergency plan and how to stabilize artwork in the case of an emergency.
ICEFAT members enthusiastically approved the committee?s first-ever guidelines for commercial fine art storage in late September 2008, at their annual convention in Florence. On the strength of this momentous step forward in the arena of storage, ICEFAT members are now positioning themselves as leaders in the broader industry; a preliminary committee has been appointed to develop similar guidelines within the disciplines of fine art crating, packing and shipping.
ICEFAT's adoption of storage guidelines is to be applauded. While clearly an essential step in creating the best possible climate for art, all this is still so new it will be awhile before we know what effect the new guidelines will have on the average collector. Meanwhile, collectors looking for a storage space for valuable art should continue with the usual due diligence; call your insurance broker or agent. He or she can check whether your insurance company has recommendations for fine art warehouses that have been inspected, and monitored on a continuing basis to make sure they keep up with the best practices of protection. You can also call the nearest museum of significant size and scope and ask for the advice of the registrar.