Tag Archives: Theaster Gates

Chris Johnson of Johnsonese Brokerage: How to Insure Your Art

Today’s post was written by our wonderful friend and business insurance guru, Chris Johnson. He’s the owner of Johnsonese Brokerage in Chicago and has helped us tremendously over the years. He was kind enough to explain the process of obtaining insurance and also share some inside stories.

What are the general steps to getting art insured?

The biggest step is probably determining the value of the art to be insured. Collectors simply have their collections appraised. For an individual artist the process is a little more challenging because their art inventory is continually changing. So they need good records to document the value of their art. This can be copies of gallery contracts, for example, that list the consigned value of their artworks over time. Or if they sell directly, it can be sales records showing selling prices over time. For more established artists, it can be auction records or appraisal reports for specific works.

The next step is simply to find an insurance agent that understands the business of art. The insurance agent will work with the artist to determine what level of insurance coverage is appropriate for the artist. This is basically the highest dollar value of artworks that you might have at your studio (or elsewhere) at any given time. You also need to be concerned with coverage for your artworks while in-transit. Most art insurance policies have a separate, and usually lower, sub-limit for coverage of art while it is being shipped. The limit should be high enough to cover the highest value of art that you would include in any one shipment. Think of how much you might ship for a gallery show or art fair, not just individual artworks being shipped to buyers.

You also need to think about international coverage. The typical policy provides coverage in the US and Canada. If you will be selling internationally or participating in international art fairs, you should add international coverage.

What are some of the types of clients you insure?

In the Fine Art world, we insure galleries and private dealers, auction houses, corporate and private collections, framers and conservators, and individual artists. We also insure traveling museum exhibits, which I think can be the most fun because we sometimes get to see the exhibits before the general public.

Share an awesome art story disaster with us!

You won’t be surprised to learn that Charles Saatchi is not my client. But I can’t help finding the story of the demise of his Marc Quinn sculpture a little amusing. The sculpture was made from the artist’s own frozen blood, so Saatchi had it kept in a freezer. During maintenance at his house the power was disrupted and the sculpture melted. The darkly amusing part to me is that Saatchi is married to celebrity cook Nigella Lawson. So I can’t help imagining this work of art melting all over some amazing dinner that Nigella had whipped up for a party.

Marc Quinn, Self, 2001, Image: The Art World Daily

Marc Quinn, Self, 2001, Image: The Art World Daily

But for my real clients, the day to day claims are things like water damage, damage in shipment, damage during installation or packing, and even red wines spills at gallery openings. I did have a gallery client experience a pretty major loss when there was a fire two floors above them. The fire was quickly contained on the higher floor, but about half of my client’s inventory was water damaged. I had another client have sewage back-up literally in their gallery. Most of the work was high enough that the damage was limited, but still expensive.

Who are your favorite artists?

I like and collect a few local artists who aren’t well known. But to have some fun name dropping, probably my favorite living Chicago artists are Karl Wirsum and Theaster Gates. In looking at all of art history, I have eclectic tastes. I like El Greco, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman.

But if I could own any artwork in the world, I might choose Picasso’s Guernica.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica. Paris, June 4, 1937. Oil on canvas, 349.3 x 776.6 cm

Pablo Picasso, Guernica. Paris, June 4, 1937. Oil on canvas, 349.3 x 776.6 cm

Thank you, Chris, for sharing your expertise on taking care of our investments! You don’t have to be in Chicago for him to help you. See the full list of licensed states here. To contact him about your own collection or business, call  773.857.0242 or email him at info@johnsonese.com

Johnson is a licensed insurance producer with a background in corporate finance, business planning, technology commercialization, project management and international business. Johnson focuses on serving clients in the arts community, building on his four year experience as director of a contemporary fine art gallery in Chicago. During this time he was also a founding member of a neighborhood gallery association, and he completed a Certificate of Connoisseurship in Fine & Decorative Arts at Northwestern University. In his insurance practice Johnson works closely with art galleries, antique dealers and framers to protect and build their businesses.

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Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Project | Neighborhood: The Way It Should Be

I met Theaster at an arts meeting five years ago. I was feeling a bit detached from Chicago’s contemporary art scene (with only dealing deceased artists). He was incredibly vibrant and open about his work, or rather, his stance on how he was creating his work. At that time he was weaving a multi-disciplinary dinner event that involved his ceramics (which the meals were served on), conversation between two unlikely paired groups (which were recorded with mics hanging over the dinner platform) and sumptuous meals prepared by a chef. Topics were doled out previously through a formal invitation to the Plate Convergences, a ritual gathering originating from Shoji and May Yamaguchi. (Hint: You must read for the full story). I was taken with this culturally rich vehicle for employing sound, sight, taste and touch – an installation performance based on real, palpable experience. I wondered why more people weren’t buzzing about his work. Then the storm came.

Yamaguchi slabs, wood fired, 2007

Having just returned from Art Basel Miami a couple weeks ago, Theaster flew immediately to Seattle to install his next project. As the recipient of the Joyce Award last year,  he directed and performed with a full choir in the Milwaukee Art Museum exhibit To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave the Potter. Exploring the legacy of a potter named Dave Drake, he created a world and voice for a ceramacist who previously didn’t have one. He’s also been chosen for the Whitney Biennale and is represented by Chicago and Berlin based Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Over the years Theaster’s continued to be a gracious host and artist, generous with his time and explanation of his current vision. His art and living experience are one in the same, something that -N- and I find to be integral to creating work. In 2009 -N- photographed the incredible donation of 14,000 books by Prairie Avenue Books to The Dorchester Project in the south side Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. Particularly important in that donation was the focused inventory of art, architecture, design and photography literature. Volunteers helped to move it all to the live/work/design building at Dorchester and 69th Streets, updated with renewable and salvaged materials. (8,000 LPs were also donated from the former Dr. Wax Records, and 60,000 glass lantern slides came from the University of Chicago Art History Department). Today, the Dorchester Project houses an artist’s residency space in the attic (with a top-of-the-line tub!), a full library, a listening station and future opportunity for a communal kitchen where culinary artists can share their skills with the community. At Dorchester you can have dinner, watch a film series or take an art class. There’s always something happening for the children and people in the community which begets more happenings.

Studio space using salvaged materials

His name is synonymous with a movement of empowerment, activity and responsibility which he modestly cites as “everyday activity.” Check out the video “Try A Little Tenderness” to understand the Dorchester Project, a neighborhood encompassing initiative to share music, literature, space, design, architecture, gardening, experience, art – just share. 

Congratulations, Theaster, on all your success. And more importantly, we celebrate that the rest of us are engaging in the possibilities that you saw first.


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