Sailing towards the New

Only a quarter ago, the art community was electrified by a topic that seems quite abstract today - collectors, educators, investors debated together how to present outstanding works of art on yachts. How to choose, how to hang, how to move between ports, when having these works on board? In the new crisis waters, the topic takes on a new dimension: will such discussions still make sense? After all, great yachts and great art will not disappear overnight, although now they seem to be a symbol of old times.

To all those who thought that art on a vessel can only be decorative works by Jan Cybis and Zofia Stryjeńska made to a bespoke order, as part of MS Batory's decoration, it is worth telling that in this decade, art on a yacht or a ship is considered differently. Rendering space more attractive is one of the functions of works of art on a yacht,  another one- just like almost 100 years ago on Batory - is to communicate one's taste, cultural competence, knowledge. But there are also new ones.

Very often the value of art on a yacht exceeds the value of the unit itself, which means that detailed analyses are necessary in terms of insurance. The great challenge is to meet legal and customs obligations, which in many countries and even ports are completely different. Caring for an art collection on a yacht sometimes resembles working with museum objects, the difference being that we are talking about a private museum that is constantly changing its location - says Karolina Błasiak, art advisor, i.e. a person who helps collectors and investors to acquire art and also takes care of art collections on a daily basis.

One of the boats that will delight every art lover (if it’s in port) is the Aviva superyacht. It's the one with the fantastic "Triptych 1974-1977" of Francis Bacon. Another is Revelry's yacht, on board of which you can see the works of Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly or Richard Diebenkorn. The value of the vessel is estimated at 350 million dollars, the value of the collection it holds: much more.

Okay, but if we already have the works of Calder, Bacon or the unknown American classic Kelly, why put them on the waves? The first answer is that the arms race of the world’s wealthiest people moved on the waters (before the pandemic). If you invite a starchitect to design your yacht (e.g. Zaha Hadid, who, together with Blohm + Voss Company, sold five original superyachts, or Norman Foster, who also released an edition of his floating designs), you can expect that a poster in the anti-frame will not hang in the mess hall. The second answer is that yachts are treated as investments or capital storage vehicles. Every good work of the artist will act here as an additional cherry on top of the cake, raising the value of the yacht, sometimes - for example if the art collection has a curatorial line - by more than the sum of the values of individual works.

The charm of a yacht investment is determined by the fact that there is a completely different set of values behind it than, for example, an investment in a private plane (which serves to shorten travel and increase efficiency). Allocating funds, usually substantial, to purchase a vessel means: I have time, I appreciate slow pace, I can afford beautiful things. If there is also a part of the investor's collection on the yacht, we are talking about an extraordinary level of pleasure and knowledge. The matter with the so-called superyachts looks a bit different. Indeed, art in superyachts is supposed to lift the value of the vessel. “And, beware, conversely, if a painting or sculpture was a key element of the superyacht's decoration, they are later valued higher on the market”, says Luca Tomasi, investment advisor from Luxembourg.

On a global scale, the creation of floating safes with art is becoming quite an issue. The race has gone so far that at the turn of 2019 and 2020 the subject of servicing art on yachts was dealt with by serious consulting companies. In October 2019, Luxembourg's Deloitte, which held a conference on new phenomena in the world of art and finance, devoted a separate panel session to art on yachts - similar to how the new legal safeguards for transactions will look like. As early as February 2020, the Superyacht Investors meeting discussed how to store and secure art on board.

In addition to legal, tax and regulatory issues, the daily challenges must also be taken into account: protecting works from the sun, the breeze, the proper installation and disposal of works; the location of sculptures and freestanding objects in particular is a great challenge. Very often it turns out that in order to place art on the yacht you need a great technical team in a superior-museum standard - says Karolina Blasiak.

Therefore, the challenges related to art at sea are also the mundane ones, but framed in luxury and splendour, with which the world of the yacht's deck is associated. In the first quarter of 2019, the British conservator Pandora Mather-Lees gave an interview to the Guardian, in which she talked about running courses for boat stewards interested in professional care of art on board. She came up with the idea of training when a Basquiat painting, worth over $100 million, was damaged, obviously decorating the yacht interior. Let's add: not by the sea breeze or the champagne cork, but by the cornflakes, which the children of the collector and investor pressed into the canvas. The price is about 300 pounds per day.

It seems that now, in times of belt tightening, it will be a little more difficult to persuade someone to invest in a yacht. But it's only appearances. It may be a little less common to talk about it in public, but the demand for luxury floating objects and art on them will certainly not disappear due to the crisis and slowdown caused by the COVID-19. Building a yacht takes about 12 months, there are queues to the shipyard. The change may take place in another dimension - successive generations of wealthy people have slightly less money at their disposal (after all, they have to be separated from their families) and are also more distanced from consumption. That's why I think that in a few decades' time there will be many more yachts about 60 meters more, less - new superyachts longer than 100 meters. But this change is unlikely to affect the art, there will be a place for your beloved works of art, probably inherited too,' adds Luca Tomasi.

The sign of art on a yacht may become perhaps the most famous story of recent years: the arrest of Picasso's painting from 1906, which decorated the yacht of Spanish billionaire Jaime Botín. In 2015, the boat, moored in Corsica, was entered by the police, saying that the work had not been subjected to proper customs procedures and, more specifically, that as part of its national heritage it could not leave Spanish waters at all. Botín argued that he was sailing under the British flag and had full right to move the yacht with full equipment. However, at the beginning of 2020 a sentence was passed: the collector was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and more than $50 million in fines.

This was a very high-profile case, which electrified the environment. It showed the scale of challenges connected with perfect legal and customs preparation of each cruise - comments Błasiak.

After the cases of Picasso Botín, it seems that the old handout concerning art on yachts is just closing. It can be expected that now there will be less discussion about spectacular valuations, variants of transport, protection against sea breeze. In public. However, great art will not disappear from the decks of luxury boats. At best, it will be much quieter around it. So let us remember that not everything that is great and on canvas is in a museum, gallery, studio, house and private residence. Sometimes art sails, far from our eyes, and that will not change.

This article was orignaly published by Vogue Poland. Please contact Karolina Blasiak for more information:

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Credit Pictures: Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design / Superyacht times