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Buying Cruise Ship Art: A Lesson in Trickery

magnusson art appraisal

Want to start your art collection? Don’t use your sea-legs…

Here’s a bit of cold, hard, truth for Magnusson readers…Buying art in a gallery located inside a cruise ship or shopping mall,” is NOT usually a good idea.  Here’s why….The artwork offered by galleries in those venues are often quite specious.  Let me tell you how I became aware of this:

Many years ago, I was tasked to appraise the art collection of a physically handicapped person.  Her collection, displayed lovingly in her home, needed to be sold so she could move to an assisted living facility. 

A few years prior, this client had suffered a debilitating injury, resulting in paraplegia.  After winning a significant liability lawsuit, she treated herself to the life-long dream of taking a cruise.  On that cruise, my client became captivated by the art in the ship’s gallery and was enchanted by the art dealer. 

Via the onboard auction, she purchased many “original” and “limited edition” lithographs, paintings, bronzes and porcelain figures by renowned artists. Certificates of Authenticity accompanied each or her acquisitions, and her receipts totalled well over $100,000 during the course of the cruise.

Please know that the art world has never been particularly transparent.  At the time of this story, the internet was in its infancy. Art market data was not readily available to the public, most of whom didn’t even own a computer.  I, too, was a fledgling appraiser. But I did have access to the best research tools available, including relationships with reputable auctions and galleries.

What I learned was astonishing: the “art” was near worthless.  The cruise ship’s art gallery was run by a large private firm. The firm was, in fact, under fire by the Attorney General’s Office, and in the middle of multiple class-action suits for selling overpriced copies as originals.  The cruise ship’s art auction was essentially hucksterism in its highest form. 

magnusson art appraisal
magnusson art appraisal

The auctions were not real auctions, but sales to any “bidder.”  Cruisers are, by default, off their guard; they’re vacationing. Out in the middle of the ocean, away from any second opinion or verifiable sales data, champagned and strawberry-ed to death, cruisers were (and still are) easily convinced by these professional peddlers that they’re getting the buy of a lifetime.  It would be years before many of these art collecting novices would catch on.

In this case, I was tasked with being the bearer of bad news.  My client’s collection had not only failed to appreciate in value (as she was told it would), but WAS worth significantly LESS than what she had paid for it.  I hate it when clients cry…

A different client’s family engaged me to evaluate their father’s priceless art collection.  Dad had enjoyed spending time in a popular gambling mecca and spent his winnings buying art and collectibles.  The hope was that the collection could be sold to help pay for living expenses.  

One family member had taken on the task of photographing and cataloging the collection.  She said it took her years to complete, and presented me with three giant binders of data.   Oy.  (I wish they had called me before starting this project.  I could have saved them so much time and effort.)

 In this case, his art collection turned out to be priceless, but in the truest sense possible.  Interestingly, the items they thought had little significance proved more significant; a coin collection, Tiffany lamp, and garish jewelry sold for a premium. 

magnusson art appraisal

I have personally seen such art galleries on cruises I have taken.  I’ve seen Peter Maxs and Salvador Dalis in every size, shape, color and form and brilliantly displayed bad art, too.  I wonder how many thousands of Peter Max Statue of Libertys are out there. Thankfully, I’ve never had to forewarn my fellow travelers.  They never seemed to care;  the gallery was always devoid of shoppers. Perhaps they had something better to do than shop?

Over my career, I have seen the results of hucksterism in clients’ collections, in addition to the aforementioned “art”: Bradford Exchange plates, Thomas Kinkaid art, Hummels, QVC jewelry… They are depreciable goods which I hope they enjoyed owning. With millions of these items out there, today’s market cannot absorb such a quantity of mass-produced works. 

The most important aspect of a collection is its authenticity.  Authentic, original works of art do have value.  “Certificates of Authenticity” are almost always specious!  They are issued by countless entities with unclear interests in the named artists’ work. They are essentially pumping out series of cheap copies –repros, giclees, photolithographs, and embellished posters year after year

magnusson art appraisal

Determining authenticity is NOT an appraiser’s job, but a professional, qualified appraiser can guide you through the art world’s treacherous waters.  Do not buy art in open waters!

My words of advice to you: If it is sold as a “collectible”, it’s NOT collectible.

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To learn more about the appraisal and advisory options from The Magnusson Group, visit our services page.


Co-authored by: Lynn Magnusson, ASA, AAA , and Kollin Handler, Communications Director

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