My first auction of any kind that I attended was on the former NCL Dreamward, which I believe is now called the Norwegian Dream after her stretching exercise. So about 7 years ago, I sat down in a small lounge, gulped the free champagne and became intoxicated on the idea that moi could be in a place to be bidding against the likes of Forbes, Rockefeller and Walker (a.k.a. Alan!).
Since I pretty much have sailed almost every year now for a couple of decades, my clock tells me this art buying craze started on ships around 1994. The US economy was really just getting going and the days of 24% annual returns from Wall Street were about as common as White House pardons are nowadays!!
So one might have called me a 'novice' the day I walked into that lounge and tried to judge the value of the hard works of the Masters. Hmmm, the Masters - I felt I was among them; Van Gogh, Dali, Warhol and so on. Or, was it Jones, Smith and Pedrak? Heck, how would I know? I was the truest example of an art novice on the high seas!
On the other hand, I spend a fair amount of my leisure time on a ship in the casino. I can pretty much tell you what to do on every conceivable hand dealt to you on the black jack table. There, I am no novice. Perhaps not lucky...
There is a pattern to people's attitude towards casinos that keep them open. The average 'joe' that walks into a casino has "X" amount of dollars in their mind to dispose of - be it a quarter or a hundred dollars. They have rationalized that if they lose this money, they can live with it. In fact, they can go back to Peoria and tell people how they carelessly tossed their money around the ship's casino. We all want to consider that we are, after all, high rollers at some point of our illustrious journey here on earth, right?
These casino novices are what keep the casino alive. The pros add their fair share to the table's deep pockets, but it is the pure unadulterated cash from the James Bond's wannabes that keep a casino afloat.
Somewhere in our search for glory and fame in everyday life, casinos fulfill about .005% of our cumulative dreams. The rest of us walk home empty handed - ergh umm, that is, 'used' to walk home without satchel. Enter the alternative casino - the on-board ship Gallery of Art!
Ship Tip: Art Galleries at Sea are a Casino in disguise!
Back to my first encounter of a third kind on the Dreamward. It was midday and I was meandering my way back to the sun-drenched sun deck when I stumbled upon my fate with art. Since it was new, the Art Hawker (not sure what his real name is, but he is the one with the British accent that pulls people into the room and offers them a cold glass of their best André!) got me to come in and survey the hidden treasures sitting amongst the chairs and couches.
I looked around at the art and found a few things that caught my eye. One in fact had a bit of sentiment. It was/is a 'limited' and signed-in-pencil print of boats at Villefranche - which is just outside of Nice. My job at the time required me to travel to the French Riviera, and therefore my interest in this print piqued. I mentioned to the Hawker that I liked this and he put it on the stage for the auction.
The print was one of the first to be offered. Now understand that I already had a liking to this print and was kind of already getting protective of it. In fact, that is like having a pair of Kings in black jack - you feel you have a pretty sure winner. Hawker was trying his best to lure people in from the doorway, so he chose a few lesser expensive masterpieces to start with.
My fine print I recall started bidding at about $70 - which I thought was fair. One person threw out $80 and I countered quickly and frantically with a resounding ninety dollars. Going once, going twice, SOLD to the gentlemen in the orange bathing suit!
For my means, this was a pretty good investment. Park West Galleries, the purveyors and curators of these masterpieces, added a 15% - 20% fee on top of this for shipping and in weeks I was the proud owner of a rolled up picture of small netting boats. The frame job was done in Newburyport, Mass. (appropriate, being an old fishing town itself) for about a hundred and this went by armed guard to my office and hung there for the duration of my time in New England.
Today, as I sit in my new home on the coast in Wilmington, NC, I look straight ahead at my print in my Mediterranean-themed house. Was the two hundred worth it? No doubt, for I could have lost that investment in the forgotten casino one evening in 30 minutes. In fact, the centerpiece of my house is a very large limited print by Igor Medvedev - a true treasure I bought at auction with my traveling friend Debbie on the Mercury two years ago.
The story of purchasing "Dreaming" was kind of interesting. Debbie and I looked at the print on display and as we did, we noticed all these errors that were done on purpose. However, from the first glance, it was not noticeable to these untrained eyes. We kind of fell in love with the picture with it's Mediterranean landscape and, the use of the royal blue was going to make a definitive mark in my home that was under construction as we cruised.
We were in a hurry that day to go somewhere and I approached the Hawker and asked him what that print was going to begin auctioning at. He said the retail value was approximately $900 (on land of course), but they would begin accepting bids at $250. I said fine, I will take it - and he agreed to let me have it sans auction. I was thrilled and can honestly say that after shipping and framing charges were added on, this print 'to me' is priceless as it hangs over the mantel in my living room.
Ship Tip: The value of the art you purchase at sea is what it is worth to you - forget all the nonsense about retail values.
Recently I read an article in USA Today where some cruise passengers paid tens of thousands of dollars for what they thought were limited Dali's and the such. Come to find out, on land they were half the price and they demanded their money back and surprisingly got it.
Ship Tip: Be careful not to let the romantic surroundings of a cruise skew your value of money. It's easy to do when you have a glass of champagne in one hand and your beautiful wife in the other!
If you are buying some serious artwork on board, put a clause in the contract that states that you must receive a stateside appraisal before you take delivery of the masterpiece(s). Keep in mind that you are at an auction too - so your ability to try and return any purchases is very difficult.
Ship Tip: Be careful and ask for some sort of guarantee of the art's value before you plunk down money beyond your means.
As the week moves forward on the ship - more people begin showing up for the auctions due to word of mouth. I might suggest you show up the first day or wait for a slow day before you compete against your fellow cruisers. On my most recent cruise on the Carnival Triumph, my cabin was across the hall from where they stored the prints. The last day the Hawker had a hallway sale for completely framed pictures including some with ready-to-go frames.
Ship Tip: Choose a time on the ship where the chances of your artwork being competed for are diminished. Often you can purchase for the opening price.
I enjoy the auctions from time to time - but really wonder who pays thousands of dollars for limited Dali's or Bugs and Mickey Mouse Lithographs. However, if you are on a ship feeling kind of ArtSea and are considering throwing your hard-earned cash away in the casino, a memoir on the wall beats a pair of 8s any day of the week!
Doug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.
Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.
Doug is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.
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