Narrator: How do you insure something that’s literally one of a kind? How do you assign value to something that’s thousands of years old?
On January 28, looters broke into Egypt’s National Museum during the country’s political protests. Word spread that the looters damaged 70 items, including two skulls, a 3,000 year old wooden sarcophagus and a statue of King Tut standing on a panther.
AXA Art is currently the only global art and collectibles insurance company. ILSTV spoke to Ann-Louise Seago, Vice President and Senior Fine Art Underwriter in Canada about the company’s art-world coverage.
Ann-Louise Seago: We’ve been the major insurer of not just museums, but private and corporate collections, galleries, dealers, artists, conservatories, so anything that really fits in the art world. It’s “valuable objects” as the definition of the broadness of what we cover. That isn’t just flat art. It’s jewelry, it’s watches, it’s rare books, it’s antiquities, it’s shrunken heads – we have collectors of that – it’s photography, it’s stamps, it’s coins, it’s musical instruments – it’s a very broad definition.
We try and stay away from the debate of “What is art?” If a person has a collection of images or objects of which they’re passionate about, they in themselves have sort of an inherent, measurable value which would be considered insurable. But on a basic level, anything that can be bought and sold at auction has an insurable, inherent value.
The national treasures, of course, with the recent situations in Egypt, which are just devastating, kind of go on a whole different level because they’re obviously not personally-owned. They’re not just national treasures, they’re treasures of civilization and to the world in general. They have a historical significance that forms the whole backbone of the history of the place.
Narrator: While AXA Art, as any insurer, deals with claims, it also focuses as much on loss prevention and risk management. Along with Global Risk Partners, AXA Art has created the Global Risk Art Survey Platform – or GRASP – which created a risk assessment system for art warehouse facilities. Ann-Louise says this type of risk management is a key factor of AXA Art’s business.
Ann-Louise Seago: Insurance itself is a form of risk management but I do think AXA Art, in terms of its specialization, goes onto a whole new level of service in risk management. A lot of that is in the areas of the employees and what we focus on is an example of that. In short, sometimes we consider ourselves to be stewards of the art world, in that we service the entire art world because we have experts in claims, in underwriting which is assessing the risk and thinking what can go wrong. We have art history backgrounds for the art experts, and one of their roles is to be a conduit between the insurance industry and those that are in the art world that sit on the periphery. They have relationships with appraisers, restorers, auction houses.
The value proposition we have is two-fold: we offer the products and services to protect the material value of an item, but we’re very much involved in programs that protect the cultural heritage of items, which again brings us back to Egypt. In doing that, we’re hoping that when we protect things, that future generations will then benefit from having protected these items.