Managing and caring for your art collection

The importance of proper art management


One might own art for several reasons: aesthetic appreciation, enjoyment and personal fulfillment, historical interests, or even investment or intergenerational transfer. Regardless of the type of art you own and your motivations for acquiring it, properly managing and caring for this asset is crucial in order to protect its value.

Different media and genres of artwork will need to be treated in different ways; for example, shipping and installation might be more of a concern with sculpture, for instance. Old master oil paintings may require different care or conservation than an acrylic-based painting made in the 20th century. Works on paper and photographs, along with textiles, books and manuscripts, must be stored and displayed in certain conditions because of their particular sensitivity to light, temperature and relative humidity. Environmental factors such as UV radiation, air pollution, and pests can also affect the condition, and ultimately the value, of a work of art.   


Documentation: the basic building block


The first order of business is putting the right documentation in place. Prior to purchase and each subsequent move, make sure to carefully examine, record, and archive all reports on the condition of your artworks. Ideally, you should keep a detailed inventory of your collection, including the purchase invoice and any certificates, notes on the provenance, exhibition history, location, source, and costs of each piece, along with detailed photos. A clear record of an artwork’s history and provenance is an important document that should accompany it when lent to an exhibition or when sold in the future.

To this end, all physical documentation should be carefully filed, with copies kept in a separate safe place. If possible, back up your database electronically too.


Insurance considerations1


Properly insuring your art is equally crucial: an appropriate all-risk policy may be separate from your homeowners’ policy and should account for theft and accidental damage occurring anywhere. It may also include coverage for natural disasters and/or terrorism coverage, depending on your needs and location. Art title insurance, meanwhile, can help insure against ownership risks, making it easier for you to sell, donate or use your art as loan collateral. Don’t forget to have your art reappraised regularly to ensure all policies are up to date.


Shipping, storage and installation


There are specialized vendors for the various aspects of collection care. These companies may handle fine art shipping and installation, storage, conservation and/or framing. They can construct a proper crate or travel frame, send the art via fine art shuttle cross country or via airfreight overseas. Depending on value and where the art is going, they can also arrange for a courier to oversee the shipment if necessary. These firms can assist in customs clearance and local delivery. Such companies can also provide trained art handlers who know how to properly pack, unpack and install a work of art safely without damaging it. There are considerations with handling or installing a work of art that may not even occur to the new collector. For example, simply touching a painting or sculpture with one’s bare hands can leave an oil that creates indelible fingerprints on the work for the remainder of its life. Direct or strong sunlight on a textile or work on paper can fade the colors of the work, negatively altering its value permanently.




Condition is an important factor in a work’s value and should be closely examined by a trained professional (not just by the seller) prior to purchase, and likewise if you see anything that does not appear to be original to the artwork’s condition. Even a relatively trained eye may not be able to distinguish between condition issues that require treatment and those that are stable; this is a task for an experienced conservator. Often a work may exhibit significant cracking, for example, but the cracks may be a result of the artist’s working process and completely stable. Other cracks which may look minor could in fact be unstable and prone to worsening if not treated. Another common example is that a canvas may become slack on the stretcher and exhibit some looseness; a trained conservator can fix this issue. Conservators can also (lightly) clean a work of art properly. 




Framing is largely a matter of personal choice, and many contemporary works do not even require a frame. Sometimes, a frame is actually part of the artwork itself and is referred to as an “artist’s frame”. The artwork’s value would be diminished by removing this type of frame. Impressionist or American historical paintings may be better displayed with a period frame, for example. There are specialized fine art framers who can advise on all of the various types of frames. However, conservation issues can arise with improper framing, particularly for works on paper if the mat or hinge used is not archival quality. For this reason, choosing a reputable framer is critical.




Shipping, installation, appraisal, insurance, and storage costs are just some of the additional expenses an art collector can expect to pay.

Using the properly trained experts in transporting, handling and conserving your art can protect the value of your collection.

It is important to document your collection prior to purchase and during the lifetime of your collection.