December 19, 2014

Stop, Thief!

With more than 100 art galleries, a handful of museums and several art-learning centers located in Lee and Collier counties, it’s no secret that Southwest Floridians not only appreciate fine art, but love collecting it as well.

"We have put together collections of several million dollars for several clients," say the owners of DeBruyne Fine Art gallery. Suzanne and Paul DeBruyne stock only original artwork with price tags as high as $200,000. What they don’t have in their inventory can usually be found through a network of art dealers nationwide.

With all this precious art about, Gulfshore Life went to the FBI, local authorities and art-fraud experts for advice on how to spot a forgery, avoid inflated prices and most of all, safeguard a private collection.

Burglaries in Collier County increased from 1,413 in 2005 to 1,456 in 2006, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime statistics. Lee County burglaries rose from 4,875 in 2005 to 5,736 in 2006. When you ask art-theft detectives about the most common security lapses among collectors, they will inevitably tell you about victims who simply forgot to turn on their alarm system or lock their doors. Both appear to have been the case in Naples’ largest art theft in December 2002, when two Miami burglars entered an oceanfront mansion on Gordon Drive and walked away with two precious paintings worth a total of roughly $7 million.

One was a Claude Monet French landscape painted in 1880 worth $4 million. The other, a Pierre-Auguste Renoir street scene painted in 1893 worth $2.7 million. Naples police detective Randy Durniak investigated the case along with a task force of Miami-Dade officers and agents from the FBI and U.S. Secret Service. They recovered the paintings a month later after two undercover buys.

Durniak says the couple who owned the home was on vacation, but relatives were staying at the three-story estate. While the visitors were there, the alarm system was not turned on, and there was no sign of a forcible entry. A sophisticated surveillance system, including more than 10 cameras mounted around the periphery of the home, was not recording when the burglary occurred.

Forgetting to activate a home-security system is not uncommon in affluent communities across the country. Los Angeles police detective Donald Hrycyk says he has investigated many art and precious collection burglaries in posh Brentwood and Bel Air where homeowners didn’t set their alarm when they left to run a quick errand. "If you have these priceless treasures in your home," Hrycyk says, "you have to treat them like treasures and always set the alarm."

Hrycyk has been investigating art and precious collections for 13 years, recovering more than $75 million in stolen property. Many of the people he has arrested are what he calls "informed opportunists" who either worked for or befriended a victim.

In one case at UCLA, a student was hired to catalog part of the university’s "special collections," which contained items such as the shoes worn by the Tin Man from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, and contracts signed by Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

"They had seven miles of shelf space with this stuff," Hrycyk says. "They didn’t know this guy was stealing them blind. There were not enough controls. He stole 32 boxes of materials."

In another UCLA case, the school lost track of a precious painting by Arthur Wesley Dow that had been donated in 1928 and hung for decoration in the registrar’s lobby. One of the employees discovered the painting’s value, replaced it with a copy, and arranged the sale of the original with a New York gallery for $200,000. The gallery then sold it for $317,000, according to the LAPD Web site.

The case also illustrates the importance of periodic inventories and appraisals of art collections, especially for insurance purposes. If you buy expensive artwork, authorities say, you should immediately document it in case it is stolen.

"Art and other collectibles don’t have serial numbers like cell phones or stereos. So keep an inventory with detailed descriptions of the items—the type of object, title, artist, date or period, materials used, measurements, inscriptions and markings and any other distinguishing features," says Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the FBI’s Art Theft program in Washington, D.C.

Photographing and videotaping precious art are also recommended to show each item’s unique characteristics. Close-ups of the direction of brush strokes on paintings, gallery stickers and visible damage are important to document. Store the records in a safe deposit box.

Durniak and Hrycyk recommend putting your own distinguishing mark on the back of your precious painting, whether it’s a dot of gold paint or initials written with an ultraviolet marker.

If your art collection is kept in your home, Hrycyk recommends a home insurance policy with a "personal articles floater" including an option to buy back a recovered work of art. The option works like this: Your $50,000 painting is stolen. The insurance company reimburses you for that amount. A year later the painting is recovered. The insurance company would then agree to return the painting to you for the $50,000 you’ve already received. However, not all insurance companies have the buyback option, says Chubb Group of Insurance Companies spokesman Mark Schussel.

If your artwork is stolen, authorities say, make sure your local police department notifies the FBI, which will enter your information in its National Stolen Art File (NSAF). The artwork must fulfill the following three criteria to be put into the database for recovery purposes:

The object must be uniquely identifiable and have historical or artistic significance.
•The object must be valued at at least $2,000, or less if associated with a major crime.
•The request must come through a law enforcement agency accompanied by a physical description of the object, a photograph of it and a copy of the police report.

Investigators also recommend reporting stolen artwork to The Art Loss Register, an international database with more than 180,000 paintings, drawings, sculpture, clocks, ceramics, furniture, objets d’art, silver, garden statuary, rugs, tapestries, jewelry and watches. The database is much larger that the FBI’s.

ALR investigators are frequently hired to conduct background checks on artwork facing auction or sales at major art shows. If an item has been reported stolen, ALR immediately notifies the owner. You can also register your artwork in the company’s "positive database," which is also checked at auctions and other art sales. You can reach the ALR at its Web site, www.artloss.com, or call (877) ART-LOSS.

ALR spokesperson Katie Dugdale says about 10,000 items a year are added to the stolen property database. "We go to Florida art fairs and other sales and have contracts to check all the precious art to make sure none are stolen or registered to someone else," Dugdale says.

Safeguarding fine art also requires a reliable and easy-to-use alarm system, says Joel Cohen, co-founder and president of Mutual Central Alarm Services in New York City. The company provides alarm systems for more than 200 art galleries and museums in New York. Devcon Security Services of Hollywood, Fla., is the parent company of Mutual Central.

A 4,000-square-foot home alarm, complete with high-end "Extent 2" Underwriters Laboratory-approved equipment, motion sensors and cellular back-up, costs from $3,000 to $5,000. Add monthly monitoring fees of $35 to $100 depending on extras, Cohen says.

Connecting smoke alarms to the burglary alarm system is desirable, especially when the home is frequently unoccupied. More expensive alarm systems with Internet service, multi-zones and video cameras allow owners to track a burglar, from room to room, with a laptop computer.

Back in his NPD office, Durniak says burglaries are not uncommon in Port Royal, the most affluent section of Naples. He believes the same group who stole the Monet and the Renoir had hit two other homes there, but he couldn’t prove it. Last October, an unoccupied home on Fourth Avenue without an alarm was burglarized. Ten expensive art prints worth about $13,000 were stolen. Durniak recovered the prints, but the case is still under investigation. He says it’s hard to stop burglars, but not impossible. Good locks, alarms, surveillance systems, and collecting mail and newspapers daily work best.

"Nothing is foolproof," he says. "But the best thing to do is make it miserable for a burglar to succeed. If you do, he’ll just go on to a house that’s not protected."

Appraisals & Guarantees
Although art dealers and gallery owners often provide their own appraisers, Florida’s Office of the Attorney General recommends hiring an independent appraiser or a museum curator to determine if you are getting a fair price before you buy expensive artwork.

"There are lots of people out there who call themselves art appraisers who have no proper training," says Mark Alexander, an appraiser from New Smyrna Beach who offers advice to art collectors on his Web site, www.artservices2000.com. Alexander says it is best to look for an appraiser who has a graduate art degree and is sanctioned by a professional organization such as the International Society of Appraisers, which requires members to abide by a strict code of ethics.

Alexander has a master’s degree from Florida State University and is a past executive director of the DeLand Museum of Art, according to his Web site. He charges a $250 minimum to appraise a single piece of art; additional items in the same collection are $150 each. The appraisal includes a thorough examination of the artwork’s history to find out "where it lies in the body of the artist’s career output as well as a comparison to other known works by the same artist," Alexander says.

These factors influence the price of the artwork.

Normal markup for fine art is 50 percent for the dealer and 50 percent for the artist or seller, Alexander says. Demand for an artist’s works increases his or her share of the price.

Collectors should also know the differences between the three types of appraisals, Alexander says. An "insurance replacement value," is the most common appraisal, which quotes the full retail replacement cost including mounting and framing.

"Fair market value" is a necessary legal appraisal such as to satisfy IRS guidelines for a tax deductible charitable donation or for state wills and trusts. "Market value" is the sale price for liquidation purposes within a specific time frame.

Guarantees should also be scrutinized, Alexander says. They should be in written form, stipulating a full refund with no time restriction if the art turns out to be a forgery. They should also be signed and dated by the guarantor and contain the phone number and address of the guarantor.

"Run it by an attorney or an accountant, whatever is proper, so you can get your money back," Alexander says. "There are a lot of forgeries out there, especially in prints sold in online auctions."
Distinguishing Great Art from Average Art.

Jon and Rebecca Zoler of Naples have been collecting art for more than three decades. They started with American Folk Art in northern New Jersey, where Jon, a marketing research executive, commuted into Manhattan. On weekends, the couple scoured art and antique shows, auctions, art festivals, private collections and museums in search of 18th and 19th century furniture, watercolors, stoneware, portraits, cast iron and wood sculptures, and weather vanes.

Tall and mustachioed, Jon picks up a precious 1860 Henry Leach Miss Liberty weather vane.

"She’s an American symbol with a graceful form," he says. From the waist up, she’s made of zinc. From the waist down, her swirling skirt is copper, a distinction that Zoler has not seen before on this type of weather vane.

Zoler carefully studies whatever artwork he is interested in. Like most astute collectors, he has a personal art library. He describes his research as "due diligence," which leads to the knowledge necessary to distinguish great art from good and below-average art.

Before moving to Naples, the couple auctioned off most of their collection at Sotheby’s in New York. The January 2005 event was featured in Art & Antiques magazine. The top seller was a carved and painted eagle by Wilhelm Schimmel, Cumberland Valley, Pa., circa 1865-75.

In Naples, the Zolers built a magnificent, modern, one-story home within walking distance of the Gulf. The walls are off-white, a fresh palette for the couple’s developing collection of contemporary modern art. The Zolers have put a $10,000 limit on each work of art they purchase.

Much of the art is commissioned to emerging artists such as painters Joel Masewich of Ontario, Canada, and Steven Burkart of Brooklyn, N.Y. Sculptor Robbie Robbins of San Francisco shaped a series of stainless steel, free-style statues that surround the couple’s backyard pool.

Commissioning original artwork from artists allows Zoler to participate in the creative process, he says. He’ll measure a space for a painting overlooking the dining table or ask the artist to see the space. Before the final version, the artist paints a small version, called a "maquette," which becomes the larger work of art after the Zolers are satisfied with the motif and colors. Buying directly from artists can also save additional fees from dealers and auctioneers.

"Art should fit in with your house and architecture," Zoler says.