Take Care: Expert Tips for Maintaining a Collection

Kerry James Marshall, Past Times, 1997, acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas. The work is pictured when it was installed at McCormick Place prior to being sold at auction in 2018. Callahan Art & Associates was the contracted art handler when the work was at McCormick. 


People are still buying art, in spite of 2020’s challenges, and often in new ways. With this in mind I reached out to a few art world colleagues to ask what advice they would give to collectors when it comes to maintaining a collection and ensuring that it too weathers present and future storms. Each offered their expert tips and case studies for proper care of an art collection as well as what they consider to be overlooked aspects of maintaining it. 

In recent years as the art world has seemed to move in ever more commercial and transactional directions, with appearances at major art fairs becoming a social and Insta to-do, the highest-profile sales figures generated more buzz than the art. But like so much when it comes to the 1%, it’s just that. The rest of the buying, selling and making of art goes on beneath the headlines. For those that are still buying art because of love as well as the drive to support these artists and dealers in our community, there's nothing trendy about art collecting. And there is a great deal of care that must be tended to over time to protect these precious works.

View CGN’s art service listings here for more collection resources.   – GV



Prepare more than you think you have to.


REBECCA WOAN – Chartwell Insurance

New collectors are sometimes overwhelmed and should not neglect the essentials in risk management:

• Insure with an insurer who understands art and offers broad coverages such as loss in value and protection for changes in market value. The greatest risk to art is not when it is displayed at home but rather in transit and in storage. Be sure art is properly packed and stored.

• Don’t assume the art is covered when consigning work for sale. Your own insurance should be secondary to any insurance provided. Have UCC filings (Uniform Commercial Code) on any art that is consigned, no matter how reputable the seller appears. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the worst may happen, even when it seems unimaginable.



Suzanne Lovell framed the works in this oceanfront home in ways to protect them from potentially harsh natural elements.


What's around the art is as important as the art


SUZANNE LOVELL – Suzanne Lovell Inc.; Lovell Art Advisory

• Select proper framing specifications for your art – museum quality glazing, for example, will allow the viewer to enjoy the artwork with minimal glare, and provide the best protection for the longevity of the piece. Always select archival framing to museum quality standards.

• We commissioned Blow Up #7 by Ori Gersht for a collector’s oceanfront home. The C-print is mounted to dibond, and the glazing is Optium museum acrylic in a custom black maple frame. The home environment is monitored to maintain proper and consistent humidity and temperature, and protective UV film is applied throughout the residence. The (3) works by Ray Johnson are intended gifts to the Art Institute of Chicago, and are also framed to museum standards. 

Proper documentation and safekeeping of original records of authenticity are a must, especially in cases of editioned photography or unsigned/open edition works. Also, close the drapery when possible.

 • Maintain private access to your collection inventory and original records, with a digital copy available to share. 


Stay Up–To–Date



Don’t overlook considering the value of works in your collection. Tastes are always changing and artists are constantly being re-evaluated. The value of certain works may increase a considerable amount and it may be time to discuss potentially selling works while the market is hot or update your insurance appraisal to reflect the most current values.


Clean Your Art


DENNIS CALLAHAN – Callahan Art & Associates

• Proper and regular dusting is simple and essential. Accumulated dust in conjunction with humidity develops into an aggregate which requires more force and specialized treatments to remove.

• Watch the humidity. Ideally you want 50%. Too little can cause objects to shrink, crack, and dry out. Too much causes art to swell, grow mold, and corrode. 

• As electronic media become more common collectors need to realize that they require ongoing, scheduled maintenance to run properly. Dan Flavin’s sculptures require replacement of bulbs & ballasts; Naim June Paik’s sculptures require new tubes and coils. Computers, monitors, and hard drives (copied and replaced) should be inspected every 7 years.

• When we were the contracted Art Handlers for the collection at McCormick Place, they had a fantastic Kerry James Marshall work (Past Times) displayed in a very public space. Every month we checked on it, dusting and looking for any damage. Every year we appraised it for insurance purposes while the value quietly rose. Millions of people walked by it every year. Eventually it was loaned out for a major exhibition of the artist’s work. Before leaving, a Condition Report was executed, and it was found to be in excellent condition, despite its public placement. It sold shortly thereafter for over $21,000,000, due in part because of its condition. Had it suffered any damage, as many works in public spaces do, its value would have been diminished.