Collector sues self-storage firm over damage to art pieces

SINGAPORE - An art collector is suing self- storage operator Extra Space for about $70,000 over damage to paintings and sculptures she placed at a unit in its Boon Keng facility.

Ms Fiona Bartholomeusz, who owns advertising agency Formul8, told a district court judge that all 34 works of art - paintings and sculptures - had an "infestation of mould".

One painting by a Cultural Medallion winner also went missing, likely due to poor security at the facility, she said in an affidavit obtained by The Straits Times.

Ms Bartholomeusz is seeking about $70,000 in damages, consisting of restoration fees and the value of the allegedly missing painting - Waves by Anthony Poon.

Her main claim is that Extra Space told her its facility was suitable for art storage, but then failed to keep her unit dry and air-conditioned.

She also claims that her unit appeared to have been accessed without her knowledge, and the company's unit access records were inaccurate.

Ms Bartholomeusz added that an art restoration expert she commissioned said the faulty air-conditioning had likely caused mould to form on the works of art.

Extra Space said in its written defence that it "did provide sustained and regulated air-conditioning at all times" to the unit.

It was "under no obligation to moderate the temperature and humidity... to any particular degree or level", it said, adding that Ms Bartholomeusz "failed to take such steps as were necessary for the custody, upkeep and maintenance of the stored items".

The firm also cited an agreement that she had signed stating that Extra Space is not liable for damage to items caused by leakage, pests or vermin.

Extra Space chief executive Michael Hagbeck, who was present at the hearing on Tuesday, declined to comment, citing the ongoing trial.

Extra Space opened in Singapore in 2007 as a joint venture between Mr Hagbeck, Singapore- listed engineering services firm Boustead Holdings and Lazard Limited, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Boustead told The Straits Times yesterday that it had not been involved in managing Extra Space and sold its stake in the fourth quarter of last year, making a $5.8 million gain.

Ms Bartholomeusz began leasing an air-conditioned unit at Extra Space in Boon Keng Road in August 2007 after seeing a Web advertisement.

There were no problems until 2011. The 31 paintings and three sculptures stored in the unit appeared to be in good condition when she looked at them in 2009. But in January 2011, when her representative inspected them on her behalf while she was overseas, they were found to be covered in mould, she said.

She added that when she visited the facility in February 2011, "the air on the entire floor was warm and stale... One of the air-conditioning units was also not functioning or was switched off".

Ms Bartholomeusz is represented by Mr Michael Palmer of Quahe Woo and Palmer, while Extra Space's lawyer is Mr Arivanantham Krishnan of Ari Goh and Partners.

The case will resume for a second hearing in January next year.

melissat@sph.com.sg

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