In a May 2006 news release, AXA Art Insurance announced it was offering a $100,000 reward for credible information leading to the location, recovery and return of seven Milton Avery paintings that were reported missing while en route from Boca Raton, Fla., to New York. The driver and truck left Boca Raton for a routine delivery to New York but on April 20, 2006, the shipping company reported to the police that both driver and truck were missing.
In an interview with Insurance Journal, AXA Art CEO Christiane Fischer said the story ultimately had a happy ending, as the truck and the Milton Avery paintings, worth millions of dollars, were found unharmed.
However, Fischer said, the experience “was a nightmare story,” that offered another learning opportunity for the company.
The “story here was basically that the so-called fine art shipper had hired an individual without making a thorough background check,” Fischer said. “It turned out the individual he hired had a long … criminal record and didn’t even have a valid driver’s license, to add insult to injury. [The shipping company] had violated a number of things that you would not expect a fine art shipper to do.”
Fischer said the shipper did not report the incident properly, reporting only a missing persons report to the police before telling them that the truck contained a couple of millions of dollars of art.
The company worked closely with law enforcement officials, including the FBI, which was the first to contact AXA Art about the missing artwork.
As it turned out, although neither the shipping company nor the truck rental firm knew it, the missing truck had a global positioning system in it. After a press release with details of the truck was issued, the company that had manufactured the GPS called the police and told them the truck was equipped with one. The truck and the suspect were then found in a trailer park in Gainesville, Fla.
Fischer said as a result of that experience her “new pet project” is a push for the development of standards in the art world and for people who handle art. She said she wants “to raise awareness that it’s crucial that people make sure that the people who they use for shipping, who they use for crating, who they use for storage are having the right facilities, are doing the right things, are having the right protocols in place and are having a real, solid set of standards” to which they adhere. For “a fine art shipping company that handles millions and millions of dollars to hire somebody without making sure that they are trustworthy and giving them a truck worth a couple of million dollars is not something that you would expect to happen,” Fischer said.