draw profits from selling works of art
By Kitty Bean Yancey
February 9, 2001
Art auctions, once a rarity on the high seas, are finding a berth on
most every cruise line these days.
''All the major ones have them,''
says Alan Gerstner, owner of The Cruise Corner & Vacation
Center, a Wilmette, Ill., travel agency. In an era of fare slashing,
art sales have become an on-board profit center, he and other
industry watchers say.
And while auctions once were
confined to a single room on the ship, ''now it's gotten so
intrusive in the public areas,'' says cruise travel writer Linda
Coffman, who opines at www.cruisediva.com.
''On some ships, you can't walk down halls without tripping over
easels'' of works for sale.
Taking home a painting or
print--whether it be a $50 offering from an obscure artist or a
$30,000 Picasso--definitely floats some passengers' boats, but
others are at sea about whether they're getting good value.
Not thrilled is Debra Erickson of
Bedford, Pa., who spent about $57,000 at auctions run by Park West
Gallery on a July sailing of Carnival's Triumph. When she and her
husband got home, they found that some of the Chagall and Dali
prints and animation frames from popular cartoons they bought could
be purchased for far less on land.
''It's a scam,'' she says of the
auctions. ''We were naive novices. We thought we were getting a good
The couple refused to accept Park
West Gallery's all-sales-final policy, and ''we sent back most of
the art,'' Erickson says. Getting a refund took more than six months
and required the intervention of her credit card issuers. She still
hasn't seen all her money, she says.
The Southfield, Michigan gallery,
which sold 200,000 pieces of art on more than a half-dozen cruise
lines last year, says Erickson will get her refund even though sales
are deemed final. ''For every unhappy customer, there are 10,000
happy ones,'' Park West president Albert Scaglione says. ''We've got
the volume, and we offer outstanding value.''
Among satisfied bidders is Lisa
Hanba of Flushing, Michigan, who bought four prints for $1,075 on a
Regal cruise out of New York--''a third of what I would have had to
pay if I had seen them in a gallery,'' she says.
Still, the Salvador Dali Gallery in
Pacific Palisades, California reports 50 calls a week from cruisers
who question the value of what they bought once back on dry land and
able to do research on the Internet and with galleries. ''These
people (auctioneers) are blatantly overcharging'' people who are
unsophisticated about art and have no way to check out the
legitimacy of prices while at sea, says Salvador Dali Gallery
director Bruce Hochman.
''People get caught up in the
excitement'' and overbid, agrees Coffman. She thinks cruise
companies turn a blind eye because ''they're interested in on-board
revenue enhancements. I've been told those art auctions are beaucoup
Cruise lines, which get an
undisclosed percentage of art-sale profits, say that auctions would
be offloaded if they didn't make a splash with passengers. ''We have
very, very few complaints'' about art auctions, says Carnival
spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz. ''They are a popular activity.''
''The reaction is good, or we
wouldn't have them,'' echoes Crystal Cruises spokeswoman Mimi
Weisband, who has bought artwork at the auctions.
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises also is
pleased with reaction to the sales.
''Believe me, if our guests felt
they'd been ripped off, we'd hear about it,'' says marketing
director Andrew Poulton. ''And if we felt in any way there was
anything unethical (about the auctions), we would terminate the
Caution is still advisable, says
Stephen Abt, CEO of ArtFact Inc, a clearinghouse for auction data.
''If you're away from home and disembodied from support mechanisms,