When Chinese artist Ai Weiwei dropped and shattered a pair of ancient Han Dynasty vases in 1995, the destruction was hailed as a landmark in contemporary art. But when, in 2006, US billionaire Steve Wynn gestured excitedly and left an elbow-shaped hole in Pablo Picasso’s Le Rêve, the then-most expensive painting in the world suddenly lost US$54 million in value. A legal battle with the painting’s insurers began, because whether or not a piece of damaged art is worth restoring often depends on whether or not insurers can save money by declaring it a “total loss”: reimbursing the owner its insured value to take possession of the work and quietly restore and resell it themselves. It is a system controlled by money – collectors seek out damaged work after natural disasters in order to make insurance claims, artists have been known to take a knife to their work for a higher payout, and paintings with barely a blemish have been written off as worthless.
French art-insurance firm AXA, which controls 25 percent of the global artinsurance business, keeps its “total losses” in storage all over the world. “Many of the works retain significant value despite the damage,” says Colin Quinn, director of claims for AXA ART . “Works by artists with strong sales records and gallery representation can increase in value in the future.” Badly broken pieces sometimes also reappear on display: in 2012, the remaining fragments of a balloondog sculpture by US artist Jeff Koons were taken out of AXA storage to be shown in a New York City exhibition, with 40 other ruined artworks.
From the pages of COLORS #87 - Looking at Art.