Climate activists’ attacks on some of the world’s most precious paintings have added to insurers’ concerns about the threat to the works of art, and predicted a rise in premiums.
In recent weeks, activists have drawn attention to the climate issue by pouring tomato juice on Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in the National Gallery in London and a black liquid on Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” in the Leopold Museum in Vienna to protest against the use of fossil fuels.
Both paintings were behind glass or a screen. A spokesman for the National Gallery said only “minor damage” had been done to the Sunflowers’ frame, while the Leopold Museum said the Klimt was not damaged.
However, many in the art and insurance worlds say it may only be a matter of time before artworks are vandalized, especially if the activists are further emboldened.
Nearly 100 galleries, including New York’s Guggenheim and the Paris Louvre, issued a statement earlier this month saying the activists “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects”.
The protests were mainly carried out by climate change activists, who are mainly middle-class liberals. Art insurers worry that subsequent protest groups could be less classy and end up destroying irreplaceable works of art.
Even if the art itself is not directly damaged, the cleanup costs of repairing a frame and remounting a picture can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Art insurers are reportedly concerned about the potential risk, and are looking to increase premiums and examine the security of galleries and museums.
The global art insurance market earns approximately USD 750 million in premiums. Premium rates rose by around five percent in 2020 and 2021 and have remained steady this year, but insurers expect them to rise.
So far, the attacks have not led to claims, insurers and brokers say. It was unclear what the Leopold Museum’s arrangements were, but the British government bears the risks for the National Gallery’s permanent collections, according to a gallery spokesman.
Large museums often rely on governments to provide financial security in the event of damage rather than seeking commercial insurance. However, commercial museums and galleries purchase art insurance, and its use is also more common among larger museums in the United States than in Europe.
The premiums they pay have remained steady in part because more general concerns about terrorist attacks and violence have already tightened security in recent years, with more jobs behind glass, and an increased number of security guards and bag searches.
In some cases, commercial insurers have also become more cautious, with one insurer who declined to be named saying it only insures works of art that are behind glass.
The attacks could also eat into government indemnity, the government insurance that covers major galleries when they show art they don’t own.