At the Heart of a $410M Battle: 5 Possibly Damaged Paintings

At the heart of this unusual court case sits a billionaire, five paintings worth $410 million that hung in an East Hamptons estate, and one of the “existential questions of art insurance,” per the New York Times: “What exactly constitutes damage and how can it be measured?” Ron Perelman contends damage was done to two works by Andy Warhol, two by Ed Ruscha, and one by Cy Twombly in a 2018 fire at his estate, and associated holding companies sued his insurers two years ago asserting that very thing. As Artnet reports, the case is still going strong today and only just became publicly known—and it’s not a clear-cut one, because Perelman acknowledges no fire or water touched the paintings, which were outfitted with museum-grade protective cases.

But they’ve lost their “spark … oomph … luster … depth … pop … [and] character,” Perelman testified. The insurers counter there is no “detectable damages.” Perelman’s team countered with chemical analyzes that contend there was heat, smoke, soot, and water vapor exposure that caused “accelerated aging and molecular changes.” The insurers have responses for that assertion: Their experts say specific imperfections were present prior to the fire, and the cases that held the painting didn’t experience thermal damage and couldn’t be breached by soot or water vapor. And then there are the quibbles about the timing of the claims—they were made almost 18 months after the fire—and the value of the paintings, which Perelman himself established. (Head to Artnet to see some of the paintings in question.)

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