Buying Art on a Cruise 

I can reasonably assume based on our magazine’s demographics that most of our readers have either been on a cruise, or seriously consider one as a viable choice for a vacation. We live with one of this country’s great cruise ports in our backyard. So I can talk to you, then, about this mysterious part of the cruise ship that you either are drawn to, or avoid at all costs: the art gallery. The cruise director will often call out specials and auction times every couple of hours. But what really goes on there? Should you stop in? Is the art they’re selling really worthwhile?

The answer to all of these is, “Yes!” and that comes from this skeptic.

Up until this most recent cruise, my wife and I shied away from the art auctions. This latest trip, however, we travelled with another family of close friends, and one of the regular highlights of their previous cruise experiences are the auctions. So we tagged along.

To be honest, there was a lot of art that just wasn’t our style. We admired Peter Max’s groovy 60s style, and some of the more modern art combining photo-realistic elements in surrealistic compositions that were featured on this cruise. Your tastes will certainly differ. There were cartoon cells from famous animated films, and they seemed to generate a lot of interest. And then there was a small percentage of paintings my wife and I both gravitated toward. A little expressionist, a little conservative, probably very mainstream to most, but heck, we ARE very mainstream. The curators of the auction are trained to see that, and we’re given a drink and a raffle ticket to come back for the auction later in the week.

So here are the rules for buying art on a cruise. Rule one, there are no rules. Go look. It’s free. Imagine it in your home. Imagine a friend saying, “That’s nice, is it new?” and you say, “Oh yes, we bought it on a cruise.” Nice. Agree on one or two choices and wait for auction day. If there is a rule, I’d say don’t go to the auction without an agreement on spending.

Auction day came around, and by then we’d settled on an artist and agreed on a general budget. There were a dozen or so prints by this artist, as well as adorned prints (lithographs on which the artist adds paint) and originals. The price range here was from a couple of hundred dollars for a print to thousands of dollars for an original. The gallery space was transformed into auction seating, the rules were explained, and the
auction began.

There was very little actual bidding among the audience, but some very expensive pieces were quickly sold. They’d bundle pieces together for a better package deal and have some really inexpensive in the mix. They make this all very inclusive. Then our preferred painting, an adorned print, came up. After two glasses of free champagne, my wife and I were ready.

The piece we’d eyed started much higher than we’d planned. We looked at each other, shrugged, and kept our hands down. The curator we’d seen all week saw that we did not bid and came over. We said that it was just more than we’d wanted to pay. Our friend, the experienced cruise art buyer, said to the curator, “I like that one, they like this one; bundle them,” and they did. One bid, two pieces, and a better price for us both.

After the auction, we sat with that curator, arranged payment, picked a frame (or not), exchanged contact information and were done! They make it amazingly easy to spend a lot of money. About six weeks later, a crate was delivered with our framed painting, and we love it. It was an awesome experience. It now hangs in our family room, and we’re proud to share
the story.

Wait! You’re wondering if it will hold its value? Is it investment-grade art? Maybe, but that’s an entirely different discussion for you and an investment counselor. We just wanted something we liked for the family room with a story behind it, and maybe to spend a few hours less in the casino on the cruise.