On-board auctions find curious cruisers ready to buy
It is often said that the art market has become truly global, meaning that people all over the planet are vying (sometimes) for the same work of art, thus driving up its price. Of course, 70-plus percent of the planet is ocean, but art is sold even there — on cruise ships. Most of the major cruise lines — Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa Cruise, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Lines, P&O Australia, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, and Royal Caribbean — offer art auctions as part of their entertainment programming. (Disney Cruise Lines, for its part, holds silent auctions of Disney memorabilia on board.) Passengers sign a contract agreeing to pay for whatever they successfully bid on and grab an auction paddle (no telephone or online bidding here).
It isn’t the most high-end art, consisting largely of editioned graphic prints (lithographs, etchings, digital prints, serigraphs) with the average price ranging from $400 to $3,000, although one-of-a-kind pieces (oil paintings or watercolors, mixed media and sculptures), sometimes reaching five and six figures, can be among the auction lots. According to Albert Scaglione, chief executive officer of Park West Gallery in Southfield, Mich., which supplies the art, the people who run the auctions and sometimes the artists are on board to talk about themselves and their art to interested passengers. Between 20 and 100 artworks are sold in the course of a typical week on board, he said. (The other principal supplier for cruise ships, the Pembroke, Fla.-based Art Actually, works exclusively with Royal Caribbean.) Park West sells in excess of 100,000 artworks a year on cruise ships, he said, adding that the works selected by Park West often have the destination of the cruise as their themes.
PARK WEST GALLERY
Artist Igor Medvedev talks with collectors aboard a cruise ship.
The artists are somewhat well-known, including Peter Max (best known for his 1960s-era Pop Art posters); Israeli artists Itzchak Tarkay and Yaacov Agam; Virginia landscape painter Howard Behrens; California marine life artist Wyland; and French sports artist Victor Spahn.
Not every cruise passenger enjoys art auctions — loudspeakers regularly announce when the next one will take place, which tends to be every other day — and attendees are not required to bid. Some people go just for the champagne. That helps one relax, but don’t relax too much. Park West Gallery has been sued on a number of occasions for overstating the value of the art. (“With 1.4 million customers, over these 45 years we’ve encountered a very small number of disputes, all of which we’ve resolved favorably,” Scaglione said.) Also, it may be much more difficult when you are away from home to obtain objective information on the reputation and market for an artist’s work.
One last caveat: As at land-based auction houses, the buyer’s final bid is not the total price to be paid. Often there is a buyer’s premium of between 10 and 15 percent (payable to the auction company or the cruise line) that is added to the winning bid, and framing is an additional charge, ranging from $149 to $349 (depending upon the size of the print). Since most passengers don’t disembark with their purchased artwork, Park West ships unframed art in a hard cardboard tube to US addresses for about $35.
Daniel Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org