Activists aggravate art insurers' climate headache

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LONDON - Climate activists’ attacks on some of the world’s most precious paintings have added to insurers’ worries about the threat to art from climate change itself, concerns seen as leading to higher art insurance premiums.

In recent weeks, activists have drawn attention to the climate cause by throwing tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Gallery in London and a black liquid at Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life in the Leopold Museum in Vienna to protest against the use of fossil fuels.

The paintings were behind glass or a screen and a spokesperson for the National Gallery said only “minor damage” was done to the Sunflowers’ frame.

The Leopold Museum has said the Klimt was not damaged, but did not respond to a request for further comment.

Many in the art and insurance world, however, say it may be only be a matter of time before art works are vandalised, especially if protests spread beyond climate activism.

Almost 100 galleries, including New York’s Guggenheim and the Paris Louvre, earlier this month issued a statement saying the activists “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects”.

“At the moment it’s just climate change activists, who are mainly middle class liberals and are not really intending to damage the work,” said Mr Robert Read, head of art and private client at insurer Hiscox.

“What we worry about is if it spreads to other protest groups who are less genteel and will take a less caring attitude.”

Even if the art itself is not directly damaged, the clean-up costs of repairing a frame and remounting a picture can reach tens of thousands of dollars, said Mr Filippo Guerrini Maraldi, head of fine art at broker Howden.

“The risk profile has changed now. The insurers might say ‘I want a little bit more money next year’ and ‘what are you doing about security?’” Mr Maral...

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