Some Caveats for Those Attending Cruise Ship Art Sales

It is often said that the art market has become truly global, meaning that people all over the planet are vying for (sometimes) the same work of art, driving up prices for these pieces. Of course, 70-plus percent of the planet is ocean, but art even is sold 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 animation cels and memorabilia on board.) Sign a contract agreeing to pay for whatever you successfully bid on and grab an auction paddle (no telephone or online bidding here).
This 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 some one-of-a-kind pieces (oil paintings or watercolors, as well as mixed media and sculptures) are available as well, sometimes reaching five and six figures. According to Albert Scaglione, chief executive officer of Park West Gallery in Southfield, Michigan, which supplies the art, the people who run the auctions and sometimes the artists themselves to talk about themselves and their art to interested passengers on most of the cruise lines, between 20 and 100 artworks are sold in the course of a typical week on board. (The other principal art supplier for cruise ships, the Pembroke, Florida-based Art Actually, works exclusively with Royal Caribbean.) Park West sells in excess of 100,000 artworks per year on cruise ships, he said, adding that the artwork selected by Park West often is themed to the destination of the cruise.
The artists whose work is included in these sales are a bit below the top tier, too, including Peter Max (best known for his 1960s-era Pop Art posters), Israeli artists Itzchak Tarkay and Yaacov Agam, Reston, Virginia landscape painter Howard Behrens, California marine artist Wyland and French sports artist Victor Spahn.
Not every cruise passenger enjoys art auctions - ship loudspeakers regularly announce when the next one will take place, which tends to be every other day - but no one is required to attend and, if they attend, no one is required to buy. Some people just go for the free 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 artworks being sold. ("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, when away from home, it may be much more difficult to obtain objective information on the reputation and market for a given artist's work.
One last caveat: As at land-based art auction houses, the buyer's final bid is not the total price that he or she will pay. 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 just purchased artwork under their arms, Park West ships an unframed artwork (in a hard cardboard tube) to an address in the U.S. costs $35.