Curt travels the world on business and for leisure and enjoys local hospitality and cuisine.
I was recently on a 5-day cruise and was invited to the champagne art auction. It was both swanky and exciting, but I know nothing about artwork or purchasing art, or the terms that they used at the auction. Plus, I've heard that these auctions can be a ripoff. Is the work valuable? Is it real? What are the different types? How do people buy good pieces?
Things to Know About Cruise Ship Art Auctions
I've talked to numerous people about cruise ship art auctions, and there's a common theme: the auctions are exciting and fun and noisy. The pieces seem pretty. However, without free, fast, unlimited Wi-Fi on a cruise ship, most people can't figure out what all of the art terms are, who the artists are, or if the gallery doing the auction is reputable.
In other words, it's very difficult to do due diligence on artwork sold on cruise ships. A piece is sold or removed in the time it takes to try to find an answer about it. Was it an amazing deal that just went unsold? Or is the purchase of lightning-sale art really an overpayment?
The purpose of this article is to familiarize the reader with some general information about art that's seen at cruise auctions. While it can't forecast specific pieces for sale, the casual cruiser can go to the auction armed with good information.
In Search of "Original Works:" Painting vs. Printmaking
For most people, "buying a piece of art" conjures images of buying a painting. That is, the artist put his or her brush on a canvas, and then sells the picture they have painted.
The world of fine art doesn't only value paintings, however. In fact, good value is to be found in printmaking. Printmaking is an art form in which an artist makes multiple copies of a work in limited edition, numbers them and signs them by hand, and then discontinues making more. Each of those signed, numbered works is considered an original work and not a copy, even though the run could be anywhere from a few to thousands. The fewer prints in an edition, the more valuable they tend to be.
Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol all made signed, numbered prints of their works, and all are considered original. While an original Dali painting could be worth millions, an original signed, numbered Dali print can often be had for $500 to $1000, which is a good place for entry-level art buyers.
The most common types of prints are serigraphs (silk screens), lithographs, and giclee (professional inkjet) prints. The differences between them are in technique, as the above video shows.
On cruise ships, Park West Gallery (and apparently only Park West Gallery) creates "serilothographs"—a lithograph with silk-screen overtones. They're accepted and collected as art, and fun to pronounce.
What Cruise Ship Art Is Valuable?
Like real estate or stocks, artwork is worth what a given buyer will pay a given seller on a given day. Don't be fooled by "appraisals" or "estimated worth." If prints by your favorite cruise ship artists are selling on eBay for $150 even though you paid $1500, your art is worth $150.
That doesn't mean you can't be smart.
Original paintings tend to be the most valuable. Next to that, "embellished" paintings, in which an artist has taken one of many copies of his work, added some paint by hand, and signed it, can be worthwhile investments. Hand-signed, hand-numbered prints are great entry-level original works.
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BUYER BEWARE: Many pieces of art on ship are "seriolithographs signed in plate." What does that mean? It means it's a very nice poster. Three for $150 is a great deal if you need high-quality decorations for the house and you like the pictures, but don't expect them to return your investment.
"Signed in plate" means that the signature is built-in to the printing process, and not hand-signed. Usually, these editions are not numbered, and there's no guarantee that editions are limited.
The COA, or Certificate of Authenticity, and the Appraisal
All art purchased on a cruise ship will come with a COA, or Certificate of Authenticity. Its use is limited. The COA is a nice thing to include when selling or transferring the art, and is good to keep for insurance purposes if it has a value attached, but it's really no legal guarantee. Anybody can print a COA at any time, legally. There's no guarantee that the COA is authentic unless the artist himself has signed it.
Cruise galleries will also offer to appraise your work for around $35. Don't bother. The appraisal does not reflect what you'll get if you decide to sell. Rather, it lists an insurance replacement value, but for insurance purposes, save your sales receipt, and check online auction sites to see what value comparable works are reaching at auction. Keep those documented if your concern is loss through flood or fire.
How to Buy Cruise Ship Art
People buy art for various reasons. Are you looking for something that will look nice in the bedroom? Or are you looking for investment-grade art that will look nice AND gain value?
Park West Gallery handles the auctions on most cruises. Go to their website, and look at various artists, and their various styles. Do you like the faceless women of Emile Bellet? The Toulouse-Lautrec stylings of Itzchak Tarkay? Bone's wildlife? Krasnyansky's colors? Peter Max and his Lady Liberty? Write down who you like.
Then, head to eBay. Type an artist's name, and "signed numbered." Search completed auctions to see what prints, paintings and posters are fetching on the secondary market. Write that down.
While you may not see the exact works that come to auction on your cruise, you can at least know, for example, what an average Tarkay print goes for at auction. Then, you can know whether you're overpaying or getting fair value, and whether to raise the auction paddle or go home to the internet.
Are Cruise Ship Artists Really Famous?
A hugely common question at a cruise auction is "how famous is the artist?" People know Picasso or Rembrandt; they don't know Bone or Bellet. They recognize Peter Max from pop culture. In the end, though, casual cruiser artist familiarity is limited if art is not a great interest in real life.
Do you know Alexander Calder? Joan Miro? Jean Dubuffet? Marc Chagall? All are reputable artists of historical note. They don't appear on cruise ships, usually, but you can pick them up at auction for under $10,000.
Does that make them a better deal than a numbered Tarkay seriolithograph on a cruise? Perhaps. But perhaps not. After all, thousands of cruisers a month are exposed to Tarkay, and he has name recognition among cruise collectors. Joan Miro may be a more acclaimed artist, and have recognition among historians, but not among cruisers. It's therefore possible that a Tarkay could fetch more than a Miro at auction.
The market does not necessarily reflect taste, critical acclaim, or fame, so an artist doesn't have to be famous for his or her work to be valuable.
Check the Market Value
In summary, the most important take-home lesson is this: check auction sites and historical price data on cruise ship artists before your cruise. Secondary market value is fair market value. Then, buy pieces that you like, that will look good in your house, and that will remind you of your trip. After all, art that sits in a closet rolled in a tube is barely worth the purchase.
© 2014 Curt Sembello