Word of caution – underestimate the ultra-serious world of cruise ship art auctions at your ultimate peril. Unless you’re very careful, it is extremely easy to find yourself spending a LOT of money faster than you can say “Sold!”
As relaxed as cruise ship life can be, the world of art auctions in which most of the major cruise brands around the world dabble can be treacherous at closing time, but if you’re a fan of fine art, home decoration or even just the world of auctions, it can be an exciting process in which to be part, and more often than not, the odds are in your favour to walk away with a satisfying purchase or even just a free print which can pretty up a bedside or coffee table.
Sales of artworks on cruise ships is entirely outsourced and managed on behalf of many different cruise lines by Park West Art Gallery. Most major ships have dedicated art galleries on lower decks which you can wander through pretty much 24/7 – if you’ve ever been on a cruise, you will almost certainly have walked past the gallery at one time or another.
If you are a keen reader of the daily guides printed each day, you’ll see regular opportunities, often daily, to visit one of the ship’s theatres or galleries to peruse a vast array of paintings, printed artworks, drawings, watercolours, serigraphs, lithographs, seriolithographs, animation art, sports memorabilia and more, all of which can be purchased later in the cruise. At these viewings, you’ll have a chance to meet with a representative of Park West, all of whom are extremely knowledgeable about all the works on display and the type of work each artist produces. They will try to find out more about your individual tastes in art and try to match you to an artist or even a particular work which you may find interesting or wish to purchase.
On longer cruises, more than one auction may take place, but on any itinerary seven days or less, there may only be a single opportunity to secure a piece. Often this will take place during the final sea day before you arrive back in Australia, but more details will be shared ahead of time. Keep an eye out for the ‘Champagne Art Auction’ or ‘Grand Finale Art Auction’.
When you go along to the art auction, you’ll find the theatre, lounge or venue jam packed with easels showcasing the various works and several Park West reps and gloved assistants setting up works and taking down others. As the name suggests, you’ll also be offered a glass of champagne on arrival and in many cases, an envelope containing a small print to take home as a free work of art, complete with a Certificate of Authenticity, which are issued with every work that passes through Park West hands.
Interested bidders are presented with a bidding number and invited to take a seat. This bidding number also contains the Park West terms and conditions of sale, which is extremely wise to read or at least scan the major points. At the back of the room is a stationary video camera which records the entire auction, however this is largely to ensure the auctioneer follows all procedures and fulfils his or her duties in managing the sales process.
Even though you may be buying a particular displayed item, there is a strong chance you won’t actually walk off the ship at the end of your cruise with the item (many items are heavy so this is a good thing). In many cases, the item you have bid on is a display or an example of the work and there is a duplicate at the Park West warehouse in the United States which will be shipped to you. It can take several weeks for a buyer to receive their art work, however at the end of the auction, there are enough staff members to take you through the transfer of ownership process and answer any questions you may have.
Whether or not you’re seriously in the market for one or more works of art, the actual auction process is immensely entertaining. There’s no doubt that in many cases, the exhibits are extremely pleasing to the eye and would look good in any personal gallery or any room of your home or office.
The sale of each item is extremely rapid fire, so you’ll need to pay attention. The auctioneer will introduce the item as it is displayed on a central easel, detail the regular retail price and the auction’s reserve price, which will often be many hundreds or even thousands of dollars below what it would sell for elsewhere. Some items are extremely limited edition, very rare or even high-end, so if your financial situation allows, you can pick up a piece which can take pride of place in your home or your personal art collection.
At different times through the auction, a piece will be placed on the central easel with its back facing the crowd. These “Mystery Auctions” are often lower priced items however can occasionally be on the higher end of the scale, but due to their unseen nature, the discounts can be even higher than normal. So if you’re feeling brave and would like to take advantage of these deals, you can save plenty. Often, the auctioneer will even give you an opportunity to bid on a piece sight unseen and then walk away if you don’t like it.
If you’re paying attention, it is even possible to score a free work of art, or a second item for free with the purchase of another. Sometimes these free items can be high value and worth the two-for-the-price-of-one tag.
Park West Art Gallery have been in business for nearly 50 years and their credentials are widely recognised and acknowledged. Most cruise ships in Australia feature their services so whenever you set sail, head along to check them out. You never know what you’ll find.