Buying Art At Sea? Not Me!

Many of the activities on board cruise ships fail to interest me, but nothing makes me run for the pool deck faster than an art auction. I have no aversion to the visual arts, but I have an aversion to making any financial decision quickly, under competitive pressure and with a drink in my hand.

These are pretty much the circumstances under which people wake up in Las Vegas, hung over and newly married. You might be happy with the results but, really, how good are the odds?

I do recognize that some people find on-board art auctions fun and interesting, and they are pleased with their purchases. I’m happy for them. But there is a consensus of expert opinion that a cruise ship auction is not the smartest way to invest in fine art.

Anyone who is  thinking they’d like to buy art this way, especially if they think of it as an investment instead of a home-decorating purchase, ought to at least read these cautions:

A Legal Commentary on the Park West at Sea Art Auction Invoice is a lawyer’s intepretation of the sales documents used by the biggest art auctioneering company working on cruise ships.

This forum thread on the same site, entitled Park West and Cruise Ship Auctions, has some interesting stories and some give-and-take between a company representative and a writer who is researching cruise ship auctions.

A database consultant who is also a licensed auctioneer has written some trenchant observations about cruise ship art auctions.

Some cruise experts are joining the art experts, legal experts and financial experts who question cruise ship art auctions.  In a piece on Paul Motter wrote about several things he would change if he ran a cruise line. One of them would be eliminating art auctions:

Buying art for your home should be an informed decision based on in-depth research into the piece you are considering. A 5-minute talk on giclee printing techniques presented with a glass of champagne does not qualify as enough background for you to justify an investment over $1000. We realize this is a controversial topic for the cruise lines, because they make a lot of money from these events. In our opinion, they reek of hucksterism and detract from the overall relaxed air of the ship. Many of our readers agree.

I won’t even try to say that better myself.


7 thoughts on “Buying Art At Sea? Not Me!

  1. Dave

    We have bought art from auctions at sea and have to agree that anyone that is buying for investment purposes are looking to get hurt when they get home. Take for example the “suggested artists” that Park West pushes. Just go to Ebay and you can find many of the prints for auction at a fraction of what Park West says they are worth. We are very happy with our purchases, don’t get me wrong, but they were bought with specific rooms in mind in our house that they go well in, and I was happy with what we paid. I did look them up on the internet and one artist we overpaied by about 20% of what an internet based gallery was asking, and could not find the print we have of the other artist but his other works were around what we paid.

  2. cruisemates

    Hi Jeanne, naturally, I read your piece after I saw the headline, but I was surprised to see myself quoted in here. Um, thank you! Seriously, not sure I would have said “hucksterism” if I had known I would be quoted, but I do have to say that I have heard from ex-ship workers that those art auctioneers make a LOT of money, and that is after they split the profits with Park West and the cruise lines.
    I won’t say I heard this from the cruise lines (because I didn’t), but I will tell you I have a best friend in the legitimate art sales business. He owns the official authorized gallery of a prominent (dead and famous) U.S. painter. He told me that much of all of the art business is made up of selling “official limited edition prints” which are nothing more than well-printed copies of original paintings that have nothing special about them except that the “run” they come from is limited to a few hundred.
    So what? if they are signed by the original artist you are paying for the signature, not the art. If they are not signed or the signature is part of the print then you are paying for “a nice print job.”
    My friend has made millions in this business, legimately, because he has the sole rights to say how copies of any painting by this (dead) artist can be made and sold. They want to limit the size of the run to preserve the “value” but there is no limit in how many “runs” they can do before the average person would notice. His quote to me, “It’s like printing money.”
    That’s technically an unattributed quote because I don’t want to use his name. But as one of his best friends since high school I can tell you he said that to me, and if anyone in the world should know, it is him.
    It isn’t a question of “cruise ship” art auctions – it is whether buying Giclee limited edition prints or art of any kind as an “investment” is worth it. It isn’t, in my opinion. And I think most thinking people know that.
    Even the cruise ship auctioneer will tell you, “these are not for investment, only buy these if you want them in your homes” but they also usually drop hints like “I saw one of these sell for double this price last week…” yup, to someone who was twice the sucker.
    You can say the same thing about casinos and jewelry stores, they are shopping for the fun of shopping, you shouldn’t expect to come out ahead. I enjoy casinos, but I walk in expecting to lose and I am happily surprised if I do not. I just caution people never to buy any art (cruise ship or otherwise) with the expectation it is going to become more valuable – unless it is an original piece by a known artist, and those are usually VERY expensive.
    The trick, as the comment above says, is to look at what a gallery is selling a print for, and then look on Ebay and see what a second party who bought the same print retail is trying to re-sell one for. If you knew that in advance you might be able to make a good buy at a cruise ship art auction. Most ships have internet cafes now – if you see a print/painting you like, do your research before the auction.

  3. David Phillips

    Hi Jeanne,
    Great to see this article here. I hope it is read by anybody who intends to go to a cruise line art auction. They need to be warned ahead of time as to what they can expect and what they should avoid.
    I am the writer you mention from the Forum linked to above. I have finished the first article on the subject which includes two recent case studies. It’s here: . There are another four case studies in various stages of finalization and all will be posted here when they are done and verified:
    It’s really quite sickening to hear how some people have had just wonderful cruises and then arrived home with their great art bargains and investments only to find they’ve been duped out of $15,000 or $30,000 and now have a battle on their hands to recoup their losses. What a way to end a vacation!
    In any event, Fine Art Registry is working on warning the cruise line art auction goers as broadly as possible so that they don’t get ripped off.
    Thanks again for writing your article and for linking to our site.

  4. Bill

    I am an art dealer and I know all about the giclee printing business. While some exceptions may exist, these prints have no value. Signed or unsigned, lol. Also,outright print forgeries proliferate. Remember the Dali forgeries? The prints were never destroyed. Just put away for another day. No, I have given much thought to trying to connect with some of these cruse lines to sell art. I would sell only original works from a varity of artists from the region where the ship sails. So… anyone have any connections for me to persue? thank you kindly.

  5. Cindy

    Hi Jeanne,
    I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head here– if you want to attend one of these auctions for fun, and find something you’d like on your wall for an amount of money you don’t mind spending as part of your vacation expenditures, by all means go ahead –but don’t make a many-thousands-of-dollars investment decision when you can’t consult with your financial advisors, independent art resources, research resources, and so on. If someone came up to you on a cruise ship and asked you to invest $50,000 in stock in his company, handing you a glass of champagne and a small glossy advertising flyer, you wouldn’t do it, would you? You’d want to see the annual reports, talk to your broker, and do some research first to see if it was a wise purchase. If you’re buying art for investment, take at least that same amount of time to learn about it first and discover the differences between original art and the various printing techniques,and which hold and increase their values more consistently over time.
    I really hope your column here encourages people to enjoy their cruises and not come home with that sickening pit-of-the-stomache feeling that comes from having spent large sums of money that they hadn’t intended to spend for a questionable return.
    Dance the mariachi and drink champagne, and by all means check out the local artists selling their own original artwork in your ports of call if you like — that can result in a genuine, authentic souvenir of your trip for a reasonable price instead of an overpriced version of the same prints you could buy back at home.
    P.S. I think Bill’s idea posted above of starting an alternative business selling local art on the cruise ships is a wonderful one — a way to help talented indigenous artists make a living while providing purchasers with genuine original art that can not be obtained anywhere else. Go for it,Bill!

  6. tlk1013

    I had a terrible experience with Princess Cruiseline’s art auctions! In 2004, I purchased an original Martiros Manoukian oil on canvas entitled “Tranquil Remorse”. In 2005, Princess sold another Tranquil Remorse and I witnessed the sale. To top it off, I just found out last month that Princess sold another “original” Tranquil Remorse in 2004. We’re up to three originals…can you believe it!!?? Anyone else buy one??

  7. russ

    My wife an i always enjoy the art actions , even after 8 cruises. we have at times bought to much and paided it off with the park west credit plan. So far our experience has been good. We bought fully trusting our actioneer and later discovered the pieces were worth more than we paided on the ship. We have not bought Dali, and this artist seems to be all over the board in terms of price. In fact there are so many Dali originals it is unbeliveable. Just check the worldgallery on the internet. They have books of originals for about $20,000. Probably would be a good investment to buy a book then sell indivual pieces..


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