Navigating an Art Auction

Frankly, I've always turned up my nose at art auctions, which are scheduled aboard nearly every cruise ship afloat. Since the cruise line gets a percentage of each piece that sells, I've viewed these events as simply another venue for generating on-board revenue. And, as one who cruises frequently, I seem to find the same so-so quality of prints sold on every ship.

But my attitude changed during a recent cruise aboard Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Mariner. Here I encountered a much higher quality of art for sale, and an auctioneer, Phillip Rosenberg, who not only gave fascinating lectures on art but also had a decidedly soft-sell approach during auctions.

While most cruise lines use Park West Galleries to conduct their on-board auctions, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises uses Richmond Fine Art as both a consultant on permanent art collections aboard its ships and to operate the auction for passengers. On Radisson's ships you will find lithographs by renowned artists like Calder, Chagall, Goya, Matisse, Leroy Neiman and Picasso, as well as Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer etchings.

Selling art aboard the luxury ships in the Radisson fleet is a different experience. Much of the art for sale is hanging on the walls, with small, tasteful plaques listing the author and title. You won't find tacky price tags on art aboard Radisson's ships, and there are no blaring announcements.

Most of the art is framed, and Richmond Fine Arts ships it to your home via Fed Ex for a flat rate of $45. What's more, auctioneer Rosenberg is an expert on the art he sells, and on related subjects ranging from print-making to decorating with art.

The most expensive piece of art Phillip Rosenberg has auctioned aboard a Radisson ship was an original oil painting that sold for $60,000. On an upcoming cruise, 12 Rembrandt etchings will be offered. During my cruise, most of the art purchased was in the $100-$2,500 price range. Rosenberg says that some passengers buy art and donate it to their favorite charities.

Whenever he's asked if the etchings, lithographs and serigraphs are a good investment, Rosenberg says he always replies, "I'm not an investment counselor. And, any auctioneer who tells you something will increase in value, shouldn't be."

I asked Rosenberg for tips on buying art at auction aboard cruise ships. Here's his advice:

*Buy only what you love.

*Ask questions and know exactly what you're purchasing.

*Don't be intimidated by the auctioneer. If he doesn't communicate on your level, wait for another auctioneer.

*Think about acquiring pairs or groups of small art work as opposed to one large painting.

*Go with your gut instinct - your first instinct is the best, and you can buy with confidence.

*At the auction, ask questions, and don't be embarrassed to pass a piece by.

*Before the auction starts, fix in your mind what a piece is worth to you.

*Don't pass up something that you truly love for a $100 price differential. If you love it at $600, you'll love it at $700.

*If the art is unframed, get the art company to frame it for you. Prices back home will be much higher. (The average price of framing on Radisson's ships is approximately $150-$350.)

*Don't even think about carrying it home with you, unless you've driven to the port of disembarkation. Airlines will no longer allow framed art as a carry-on item.

Ok, I did fall in love with a piece of art, and bought it during one of the auctions. I also discovered another artist -- Leo McDowell -- whom I adore (although he's a bit too expensive for my budget) and learned some great decorating tips from Phillip. Don't be surprised if you run into me seated in the front row of a cruise ship auction.

Recommended Articles