Due diligence vital when purchasing contemporary art

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Celia Lloyd Davidson

Most buyers are aware of the need for due diligence when purchasing older works of art but even when buying contemporary art, it is important to take every precaution to ensure the work is not forged or  stolen. That is the view of Celia Lloyd Davidson, London-based art specialist at law firm Withers LLP.

“People still need to work with the provenance and title organizations when they are buying because there can be a tendency to forget that the same caveats are in place also for contemporary art,” she says.

“Even if you are dealing with big name artists, you still need to make sure you do the due diligence. Organizations like the Art Loss Register are able to help clients on those sorts of things, but it’s something that it’s easy for people to overlook.”

She says that when making a purchase you need to make sure you see representations and warranties of title even if you are buying a name that is very familiar to you. For some artists there are no catalogues raisonnés and there is a lack of available research, and this can create gaps for people who are unscrupulous to move into.

“However, that shouldn’t be an issue provided that the due diligence is done in a proper way and that you take full legal advice when you are making a significant investment,” she says.

When buying older works, especially rare animal products or pre 20th century antiquities, there are further factors to consider.

“For materials like ivory there can be issues with regulatory compliance, as there are advanced certification requirements set out through international treaties. There’s also the issue of knowing exactly what the provenance is in an international market,” she says.

“For all art moves, you need to make sure the paperwork is in place – and that could include things you wouldn’t necessarily think of – for example, if it’s a modern piece, who is going to maintain it if it’s an installation work, and will you need a specialist to supervise that installation for you?”

She adds that when it comes to transport insurance, you need to make sure there is no gap in the chain.

“It’s easy to take certain things for granted but if you haven’t got all the contracts in place that’s where there could be a costly gap in terms of who takes responsibility for liabilities,” she says. “You need to ensure that everything is covered in an art transaction, and there are no surprises.”