Assurance for Insurance
Christiane Fischer of AXA Art offers a helping hand to collectors.
What do Hurricane Katrina relief, Art Basel and the Guggenheim/MoMA Conservation Project have in common? All three bear the hands-on approach of Christiane Fischer, CEO of AXA Art U.S., an international insurer for the art world (and a division of the AXA Group).This poised and bold executive is pioneering an unlikely partner- ship between the insured and the insurer—she and her team of art experts are implementing risk management strategies to keep clients from becoming claimants.
“AXA Art is the company of passionate collectors,” Fischer explains, referring to the insureds over lunch at the Luxe in Los Angeles where she is visiting collectors. “We engage in a dialogue with prospective clients before approving applications to assure that this is the type of risk the company [AXA Art] wants to undertake.We are interested in the collector who cares about art and therefore cares for artworks.”
AXA’s art appreciation extends well beyond the traditional parameters of an insurance company—for one thing, it holds its own contemporary col- lection. About the corporate collection of AXA Versicherung AG Deutschland (the formal name of AXA Art’s collection located in Cologne, Germany), Thomas Wessel, director of art expertise management for AXA Art, says, “Each time the company expands its market in a new country, it collects works by local artists.The archived collection of 3200 works is exhibited in 20 offices in Germany and AXA Art offices around the world and we loan to international exhibitions.” Wessel mentions works by California-based Matt Mullican and France-based Yan Pei Ming among the collection’s key pieces.
AXA Art offers collectors care and maintenance guidelines for artworks, provides funds for conservation research, supports philanthropy and couples preventive practices with on-site support if and when disaster strikes.The AXA Art team was among the first responders to fly to New Orleans follow- ing Hurricane Katrina to make on-the-ground assessments that would help support AXA’s art clients after the levees broke; Fischer arrived in New Orleans shortly after.
Anthony Williams, a corporate partner at Baker & McKenzie in New York City who sits on the Board of Directors at AXA Art, thinks Fischer and the AXA team significantly helped out art relief efforts. “When Christiane feared looters might come in to museums in New Orleans, she organized physical protection. She also brought in dehumidifiers, generators, and fuel,” he recounts.
Additionally, AXA Art’s conservation efforts have turned a few heads as of late. Recently, AXA Art donated an Ad Reinhardt black painting that had been deemed unsalvageable to the Guggenheim/MoMA conservation depart-
ments for research involving the conservation of monochromatic paintings and laser technologies. AXA Art has also initiated its Art Conservation Project worldwide, which supports development and dissemination of new conservation science and techniques. Furthermore, AXA Art works with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, Tate in England, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in France to restore 20th-century synthetic objects with the goal of learning how to inhibit deterioration.
What is unsaid though is that having a collection of art does not necessarily a collector make. Fischer considers the time she spends with collectors—viewing collections and making site visits—time well spent under the theory that inspecting facilities prior to issuing coverage will avoid a future claim. Has she succeeded? “Her people skills are impressive,” responds Williams. “Hers is not merely a bot- tom line view. She’s really dedicated to the art industry, and people recognize that.”
Her former boss at Daimler-Benz, Timotheus Pohl, former CEO and president of Daimler-Benz USA, agrees. “Christiane was my best critic and most loyal friend,” he says. “When she went to AXA Art, she rotated through every department and learned each function,” is a phrase he repeats for emphasis. Pohl adds, “She learned every aspect of the insurance industry and embraced the new business. She brought her skills with her.”
As for the Ar t Basel connection, AXA Ar t maintains a presence at the famous art fairs in Basel and Miami, providing its own art experts to give tours—in many different languages—to collectors at the fairs. This author can attest to the level of AXA scholarship, having toured Art Basel Miami with AXA Art. During the tour, Wessel gave collectors and patrons of major museums a comprehensive and insightful cram course on contemporary art.And Fischer was there as well, never too busy to meet and greet, easily shifting from language to language as collectors poured in from many different nations. Fischer herself is a collector of contemporary works. She embodies the
AXA tagline:“passionate about art, professional about insurance.” So who does this CEO collect for her own account? “I really don’t want to say,” she demurs. “How can I give some names and leave out others?”
Pictured: Andy Warhol, Cologne Cathedral, 1985. Print on carton. AXA Insurance AG Corporate Collection.