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Buyer's guide: How to create the ultimate superyacht art collection
Whether you want to commission new art pieces for your superyacht or keep existing works pristine, Claire Wrathall gives you the lowdown
"I don’t believe in art on the high seas,” art dealer and Hollywood producer Arne Glimcher once told me. The founder of Pace Gallery, which deals in works by the likes of Picasso and Rothko, and former owner of the 37-metre Luca Brenta-designed Vitters yacht Ghost, Glimcher loves sailing and art, but believes some passions are best kept separate. “It would have been dangerous to have works of art on board, absolutely irresponsible. I like to be able to have the hatches open and fresh air in the boat.”
Protect your art from salt, humidity and temperature extremes by displaying it in parts of the yacht where the elements can be shut out, however, and there’s no reason superyachts can’t be as safe as galleries. “If you’re inside and you don’t feel too cold or too hot, then the art will be fine too,” says London-based dealer Adrian Sassoon. Just as on land, the main problems are direct sunlight and clumsiness. The former will damage photographs, watercolours and other works on paper, though UV-resistant glass, blinds and judicious placement can mitigate this.
But there are many more robust media. With metalwork or ceramics, says Sassoon, “the work should retain the same strength and depth of colours it would have had when it left the kiln”. As to the risk of knocking something over, small sculptures and objets d’art may actually be safer on a yacht, because in a marine environment they are invariably stuck down with “museum glue” that adheres objects to surfaces to stop them shifting in a swell.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that remarkable assemblages of art are kept aboard yachts to no detrimental effect. When in 2018 David Hockney’s acrylic-on-canvas Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for $90.3 million (£69m), at the time the most a work by a living artist had ever fetched, the fact that it had previously hung among a collection of valuable paintings on Aviva, the 68-metre superyacht belonging to the businessman Joe Lewis, had clearly done it no harm.
Some collectors commission boats to reflect their art. “I actually designed [Sea Force One] around my pieces,” the hedge fund manager Raffaele Costa told me of his 53-metre yacht, when she was refitted in 2013. “Art should be an integral part of any design.” Others customise their art to fit their yachts. The Hamburg-based art adviser Tilman Kriesel is a fund of such tales: the Rothko fixed horizontally rather than vertically as the artist intended; or, worse, the Takashi Murakami, likely to have been worth at least seven figures intact, that was cut to size to fit on a wall in a yacht’s beach club.
Too often decisions about the art are taken at the end of the process and not at the beginning, says Sassoon. “An art collection is naturally an accumulation, not the result of a single shopping trip. And variety is really important.” That said, “most commonly it’s the designers who end up choosing the artwork”, says Selina McCabe, a partner at Winch Design. Buying or “commissioning pieces of art is an exciting part of the process”. Especially works for spaces that have been designed to be multifunctional, in which case “the art needs to be easily movable depending on how the space is used”, and appropriate wall finishes can be specified accordingly.
Others, like Rémi Tessier, designer of Nahlin and Vava II, insist contractually on oversight of the art lest an owner’s taste “ruin [my] reputation among art collectors. I would not work for a person who just put whatever on the wall.”
Mark Berryman, a specialist in contemporary yacht interiors, takes a more pragmatic view. “Personally, I absolutely love abstract art,” he says. “So whenever I’m designing, I always have in mind the art that I would put in there if it was my interior.” But there’s no second-guessing a client’s taste, and it may be that “what they’ve got in mind is something very classical, or a Klimt. It’s a personal taste until you broach the subject, it really is an unknown. We’ve done a couple of refits where the client has asked for landscapes and very representational work, and sometimes that just doesn’t sit well on a boat in the middle of the ocean. It can feel a little jarring.”
He, too, believes it is best to begin with the art. Too often it’s treated as an afterthought and left till the end of the process. “You can still make it work,” he says. “But it becomes much more difficult if you then decide to commission half a dozen pieces.”
When he designed the refit of Indian Empress (now H), for example, “the client already had a lot of art on board, and it was great, but the interior was really shouting at it. They were completely different styles.” The art was modern and contemporary, much of it Indian. The yacht was very traditional. And the owner knew it wasn’t working. “He said. ‘You decide where it fits best, but I do want to use it all.’”
Berryman also points to the interiors of Mary-Jean II, which were to some extent influenced by its owner’s collection of pop art, notably Warhol. “We’d seen the collection in their houses and in storage, so we knew what they wanted to use and went for something very contemporary,” to showcase it the better.
But existing collections aren’t always suitable for yachts. “Steer clear of works incorporating ivory or coral or other natural materials on the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] endangered list,” warns Sassoon, because they may cause your captain grief as the yacht travels into certain jurisdictions and, worse, risk confiscation. So be wary of Damien Hirst’s butterfly collages and leave the Polly Morgan snakes at home. Works incorporating taxidermy, even seashells, can be a red flag to customs officials.
One way to obviate any such issue is commission the art from scratch, hence companies such as DKT Artworks. Founded by three art-school alumni and employing about 40 highly skilled craftspeople, it creates and fabricates everything from mosaics to faux-art deco bas-reliefs, contemporary lightbox installations and trompe-l’oeil murals. Its work can be found on yachts such as DAR, Dilbar, Excellence, Here Comes the Sun, Kismet, Luna and Tis.
If you tire of them, you won’t easily be able to sell them on the secondary market – but DKT Artworks’ carved and relief panels are, says marketing chief Guglielmo Carrozzo, “very popular at the moment, especially for staircases, [which are] one of the few places on a vessel where you can see what’s going on on different decks”. A bas-relief can be a way of bringing everything together, he says. Commissioning a work means it can not only reflect the owners’ taste, but be sized to fill a specific space.
The Czech glass and crystal design company Preciosa is another translator of ideas into fully realised statements of artistry. Take the 11.2-metre chandelier designed by Seattle-based Susan Young, to evoke bubbles rising to the surface, that it made for Aquila when the 85-metre yacht was refitted by Pendennis in 2016. Descending through four storeys through the yacht’s central spiral staircase, it incorporates more than 850 individually blown-glass pieces.
Few materials can conjure the idea of water as effectively as glass, hence the sculptures produced by Lasvit, another long-established Czech company. Its works can be found on superyachts such as the 77-metre Turquoise Go, for which Lasvit’s Katarína Kudějová Fulínová created an installation of 378 hand-blown crystal rods, each containing its own light source, that when illuminated conjure an image of undulating seagrass on the ceiling above. Inspired by nature but abstract in form, it’s a working light fitting, but also, she hopes, a creation that “opens space for our imagination and functions as a window into our subconscious”. And ultimately, isn’t that the purpose of art?
This feature is taken from the October 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.