An onboard art auction? To the uninitiated, the very idea of holding an art auction on a cruise ship must seem slightly unusual to say the least. However unlikely the concept, onboard art sales are big business. Take, for example, the largest company involved in running these floating auctions – Park West Gallery. With revenues running into the hundreds of millions from its shore-based and cruise line interests, Park West and its enthusiastic auctioneers can be found on over 100 cruise ships around the world. This alone should tell you how lucrative this enterprise is.
It’s a fairly straightforward idea – take a cruise ship, add in numerous pieces of art of varying styles and modes, place them for viewing in a designated ‘gallery’ and then set up a sale via advertised auctions at various locations throughout the ship. You can find impressionistic landscapes, the ever-popular Thomas Kinkade, pop-art galore, in fact examples covering every genre from limited-edition masters reproductions to Disney sericels.
It’s hard to believe how much valuable cruise ship real estate is taken up with this enterprise – there are the permanent and temporary exhibit displays, the public spaces, entertainment areas and occasional bars set aside to allow the auctions to take place, and of course, cabins assigned to the staff employed by the auction company that operates on board.
There’s more to the art auction that meets the eye. Participants are encouraged to view works of art and to make expressions of interest known to the staff; pre-sale discussions are often held concerning pricing and combining of lots to potentially offer a greater discount. Minimum sale prices can be set, and staff can bid the price up until the sale reaches that point, rather than withdraw the lot. Potential customers are welcomed in early to view the lots, and plied with ‘champagne’ (oh dear, growers and producers in France must be tearing their hair out with this description, but fizzy alcohol doesn’t have the same ring). If you make it to the final raise of the paddle, try and mentally recap the small print and purchase restrictions gabbled to you at breakneck speed by the auctioneer, no doubt just when you were getting stuck into your glass of bubbly plonk.
Now there are many cruisers who enjoy buying their works of art via an onboard auction. As long as you are aware of the details in the small print (which probably requires a strong magnifying glass and a bottle of Advil), and you are happy with the final purchase price, then good for you. Make sure you have taken into account the purchase price, any premiums if applicable, shipping, handling and framing costs levied by the company. Buying works of art is so subjective. I believe that you should be buying something to be admired and appreciated – hang it on the wall and enjoy it, and let it remind you of a wonderful travel experience. Some cruisers enjoy the excitement and buzz of an art auction; if however you feel uncomfortable with the process and hear, perhaps, auctioneers promoting amazing discounts against an appraised artwork value, you may like to consider running to the nearest bar and tearing up your bidding number. It doesn’t take a genius to realise just who is doing the appraising of the value of said painting.
Park West Gallery has had, shall we say, an interesting time recently. As recently as 2008, the company has been involved in class action lawsuits regarding alleged dubious selling practices. The core of the claim amounted to Park West selling art at inflated prices by using high-pressure tricks, disputed appraisal values and claims of authenticity. That’s not to deny that many cruisers have successfully purchased works of art on board and are quite happy with their experience – but there are also many examples of customers who weren’t satisfied.
Besides issues with sales tactics, I do struggle with the concept of ‘original and unique’ art work on any one ship; just when the amazingly individual charms of your work of art are being hyped, Park West is busily promoting an almost but not quite identical product on another 99 cruise liners around the world at any one time. Don’t call me cynical, I prefer the term ‘healthy skeptic’.
The mantra at the heart of your onboard art auction experience should be “Caveat Emptor” or buyer beware. If a salesman is making unproven promises about an artwork’s suggested appraised value and you aren’t able to research and to verify such claims, then I suggest that you may be described as fair game. Similarly, don’t complain about not receiving the original item you bid on, if the small print states for instance, that for a purchase of embellished or mixed media work, “you likely will instead receive a unique work that is a variation of the example displayed”.
As the old saying in england goes ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice’.