Sun, sea spray and salty air create the perfect environment for sailing enthusiasts but not so much for priceless works of art. Still, that’s not stopping serious collectors from bringing Banksys and Basquiats aboard their yachts.
According to one art adviser who specializes in safeguarding art at sea, the works might even be better off on the water than on land in certain cases. “Some museums would kill for the climatic conditions you can create onboard a superyacht,” claims Pandora Mather-Lees. A yacht’s advanced AC system can easily maintain the recommended 50 percent humidity and temperature of 64 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit for fine art. Many superyachts also have state-of-the-art security systems to protect not only passengers but also their possessions.
But creating a hospitable environment takes work. It’s not a good idea to put art near open doors or close to the water, so some owners plan their yachts’ interiors around their collections. And because natural and artificial light can damage masterworks, it’s suggested that a conservator conducts a lux-hour survey (which measures a room’s light exposure) prior to installing any pieces—even in rooms shielded by UV-protected glass. Having a fine-art insurance policy that covers works installed on a yacht is imperative. So is keeping the correct paperwork (or certified copies) onboard to avoid complications with customs.
Art adviser Megan Fox Kelly notes that art should be installed to mitigate movement on rough waters, using fixtures that allow the work to be removed swiftly in the event of flood or fire. The safest route of all, though, is to swap out the genuine article.
“Many collectors will own the original artwork but have a copy created to put on their boat,” Fox Kelly tells Robb Report.
Yet there are some who cannot be parted from their originals. Those who’ve been aboard A+, the 483-footer owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, speculate breathlessly that its hundreds of artworks are worth more than double the ship itself. If that seems extreme, consider the superyacht Guilty, owned by Greek Cypriot construction titan and major contemporary-art collector Dakis Joannou, which has an exterior and interior designed by Jeff Koons.
As quickly as owners fill their yachts with coveted art, experts are rushing to teach captains and crew how to care for it.
“The art is not safe when you have staff ignorance,” says Mather-Lees. She points to Lucio Fontana’s minimalist slashed paintings, which can sell for seven or eight figures a pop and which hold cachet among yacht owners at present. But the cuts in the canvases create crevices that require professional treatment. “If something gets splashed on it, they’re probably just going to try to wash it off,” she says. Mather-Lees recommends the captain have direct access to an art conservator who can quickly repair the damage to a Fontana or any other delicate piece.
Collectors’ biggest takeaway should be that if they’re going to cruise with Hockneys or Hirsts, their crew had better be adept at more than maintaining engines and mixing drinks. “You really have to have a care manual for all of your objects, and it all has to be incorporated into the standard operating procedures,” says Mather-Lees. After all, the art is the only appreciating asset onboard.