If you’ve ever taken a cruise, it’s likely you’ve either seen or attended an art auction while the ship was sailing miles from land. It’s also likely that the auction was conducted by Park West Gallery, the main purveyor of cruise ship artwork and largest art gallery in the world. And, if you purchased art during one of their auctions, it’s highly likely you paid too much.
Why would I write about cruise ship art when our auction house is based in the desert? Because we have many clients who sell their cruise ship art at our auction house. Often, they’re very frustrated because they paid two or three times more the appraised value, which is what they were told it was worth.
But that doesn’t mean the art doesn’t hold value. In fact, many of the pieces are from well-known artists, such as Peter Max, David Willardson, Francisco Goya, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Rembrandt. But, more often than not, during a cruise ship art auction, the pieces are lithographs, serigraphs and prints, and there’s a lot of confusion about their worth.
Park West Gallery has certainly been successful in building its 50-year-old art auction business via big cruise lines, like Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and others, who all get a cut of the revenue. A recent article I read stated that they hold 1,200 auctions per month on 100 cruise ships, and that annual sales have been as high as $400 million.
From what I’ve read, they and the cruise lines have made some positive changes. For example, auctioneers can no longer discuss the art as being a good investment for the future. But, we still hear stories about high-pressure tactics and games, and I think the biggest problem stems from a lack of understanding regarding what is being sold.
For example, there’s a big difference between buying an original piece of art and a gilcee, a serigraph, or a paper lithograph with dabs of paint added. Also, many people don’t realize they’re not buying the actual piece being shown. It may be spelled out in the contract, but people may not realize that the art they will receive is being shipped from a warehouse.
The good news is that there is still value in art sold on cruise ships. We’ve seen Peter Max, Salvador Dalí and David Willardson lithographs sell for $1,500 to $3,500, depending on the editions. Joan Miró can command between $1,000 and $3,000 for lithographs, aquatints, and limited edition pieces. Rembrandt engravings can realize up to $1,000. Granted, that might be a fraction of what you paid, but at least there is still interest in these artists’ work.
Like anything, whether on a cruise or on land, do your research before making a purchase. And, especially on a cruise, know what you’re buying. Otherwise, you could be seasick long after your vacation is over.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.