There is No Silver Bullet

Bill AndersonBlog

It’s time to disabuse the art market again on a solution for theft of art that many people think would be obvious.

It’s been several years since I wrote about GPS for its use in tracking stolen artwork. Based on the stream of questions we receive and the dizzying pace of technology an update is in order

People still take for granted, and for good reason, that tech would have by now certainly arrived at a micro-sized device that announces the precise location (think LoJack for cars) of a piece of art or a valuable object once it has left its premises, wherever it is and for long enough to track it down. If this were the case wouldn’t every piece of art with any monetary, sentimental or historical value be outfitted with one?

I’ll remind you that, especially in EV’s and alternative energy, the holy grail is and will continue to be the size and life of the battery. It’s no different here. A GPS device attached to a piece of art has two problems. By virtue of battery size needed to transmit a continuous beacon the device is necessarily too large to be discreet. It’s easily seen and removed. And regardless of battery size, the batteries are drained as the art just sits in place and have to be changed every 3-4 weeks. If a piece of art with a device attached to it is stolen and the batteries haven’t been changed for several weeks it won’t last but an hour or so outside and a bit longer if they have been changed.

So where exactly are we? We work with one company, Brickhouse, that is refining their GPS device to draw on other sources of power to keep the device alive at the lowest possible operating threshold while sitting static on an object and using a fraction of the normal battery life. If the object is moved it will wake up with nearly full battery life. It will also regulate the transmission frequency in order to extend the life to 14 hrs. and beyond. Much of stolen art is considered gone if it’s missing more than 24 hrs., since within that time it can be transported long distances, even out of the country, or securely hidden. Thus, the imperative to keep the signal alive for at least 1 – 2 days. Their technology may diminish at least a part of the problem.

I have complete confidence that GPS will get to a point of being micro-sized and powerful enough to serve in tandem with notification of the theft. But for the foreseeable future knowing if a valuable asset has been moved without authorization is still paramount. Whether it’s a dedicated object-specific solution or layered onto an existing system, alerting to an incident at the point of contact is still the best method for protecting art.

Contact Art Guard if you have questions. 212-989-1594 and bill@artguard.net.