There are several ways a conservator can assist claim adjusters in evaluating fine art and collectible losses. Becker points out that conservators can do the following:
- Identify pre- versus post-loss damages;
- Identify condition history;
- Identify previous alterations to a work of art;
- Identify what can be restored;
- Identify inherent vice (Becker defines this as when something is made a certain way, it inherently will have problems that may age the piece faster, because of the way in which it was made);
- Identify living artists’ rights;
- Identify triage options that can minimize claim costs;
- Identify mediums and materials; and
- Identify potentials for betterment.
However, it’s important to note that conservators are not appraisers or authenticators.
“Authenticators authenticate that it’s by a certain artist, and appraisers identify the value of the piece. Conservators should not be involved in either, because it’s considered a conflict of interest. But the one thing a conservator can tell you is, technically identifying the medium of the piece,” Becker says.
The medium refers to the materials used to make the piece. A common issue arises when an owner thinks they know what they have when it may be a reproduction.
“It could be a piece that was falsely created and replicated by another artist,” says Becker.
Because of the confusion regarding identification, one of the first things a conservator will do when an item arrives in the laboratory is look at it closely. This examination includes the front, back, sides and all of the materials. Using a microscope and a black light, they can help determine the medium, materials and artist’s techniques.