Fine Art Security: A High-Tech + Crucial Component of Estate Security

Marc Debrody

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Feb 2, 2023

When most people think of fine art security, they likely visualize museums, art galleries and high-end jewelry boutiques. But many private clients own and display expensive collections of possessions, such as art, antiques and historical items that reflect their passions and interests. In some cases, these collections are valued in the tens of millions and sometimes exceed the worth of their estate. If you’re responsible for assets like these as an owner or family office director, keep the following considerations in mind.

Understand the Risks to Your Art and Special Assets

Before deciding on how to secure art and comparable assets, be sure you understand the range of risks confronting these special-class possessions.

  1. Occupancy pattern. Whether you’re home or not matters. The family may not be in residence for significant portions of the year, especially if it owns other homes or travels frequently. At the same time, when the family is on the property, the home’s security system may be turned off. Your security director or advisor needs to analyze both scenarios and design an integrated system that functions under many conditions.
  2. Burglary and theft. A common misperception is that the principal risk to high-value items is criminal activity, including unauthorized entry, circumvention of existing security systems and theft. As a result, they place the strongest emphasis on technologies such as intrusion detection, access control and video surveillance. While it’s important to protect items from criminal activity, other risks can be equally harmful.
  3. Environmental factors. Leaks, floods, ice, steam, humidity or wind-driven rain are all major threats. In addition to changing the patina of metals in artwork, humidity can alter the physical integrity of fibers, filaments, and other biomaterials in carpets, furniture and cloth-based artifacts – like indigenous rugs and blankets. Wind can blow open doors and windows or topple trees onto houses or other structures. Sunlight can bleach colors on a painting, dry out materials like leather, or otherwise cause the quality of the paint or other medium used to deteriorate over time.
  4. Cleaning chemicals. If the art or asset is adjacent or exposed to hazardous materials such as cleaning chemicals, they may be impacted.
  5. Construction activity. Dust can infiltrate cracks. Vibrations can shake paintings off their mounts. Power equipment and heavy machinery can disturb the ground, home, statues or objects perched on pedestals – even if they weigh hundreds of pounds.
  6. Storage locations. Think twice about where you choose to store your art valuables in your home. Below-grade options often include higher vulnerability to humidity, leaks and mold. Attic storage options can expose your artifacts to higher levels of heat and humidity levels below 55%.

Learn About a Range of Security and Protection Options

  1. Recognize that securing and protecting your assets depends on many factors. These range from climate, geographical location, weather, and adjacent activities, structures and threats to the inherent characteristics of the artworks themselves. Criminal activity, insider threats, and your preferences as an owner and family must also be considered.
  2. Understand what technology can do. Art and asset security and protection systems are getting more sophisticated by the day. Wireless RFID sensors and readers can receive discreet signals from tags placed on objects, even when readers are placed in other rooms, around corners or in walls. Multiple types of alerts (e.g., RFID, GPS, magnetic) for factors like heat, moisture, movement, vibration, proximity and loss of structural integrity can be monitored by you or security vendors from anywhere in the world. For the most valuable collections, high-tech solutions are available. These include laser curtains with layered beams, escalating triggers and responses, and automatic lock-downs on a par with features typically used by museums and jewelry boutiques.
  3. Explore security as a service, not just a product. Many of us with modest homes can find satisfactory art security product solutions inexpensively. For example, solutions you can get for less than $1,000 include electronic tags for artwork, a simple camera system or automatic alerts sent to mobile devices. But for estates or homes with substantial art assets, you’re far better off engaging art security as a service. This ensures that accountability is placed in the hands of experts responsible for planning, installation, monitoring and response as well as keeping up with changes in technology and their implications for your particular system and setup.
  4. Prioritize prevention, but plan for loss. Insurance is key as well as documentation of the item’s location, security and current state – including damage and repairs as well as provenance. Digitize this information wherever possible and establish redundant, cloud-based backups of critical data. Use video documentation as much as possible.

Trust the Experts

Unless you have expertise in this domain, don’t go it alone. While security system vendors are adept at communicating the benefits of their products and services, they likely won’t highlight the drawbacks or point you to a competitor with a better solution for your requirements. That’s why it’s best practice to engage a neutral security expert to assist with planning, specification, vendor evaluation and ongoing assessment.

Jensen Hughes can help perform an assessment of your estate, residence or properties and provide security recommendations to prevent harm or mitigate potential breaches. Learn more about our private client and family office services.

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About the author

Marc Debrody
Marc brings a distinguished career of 28 years in federal and local law enforcement, having recently retired as a supervisory special agent from the Secret Service.