Art Art History

Attention Billionaires: Stop Bringing Priceless Art on Your Superyachts, Or Else

Wolf of Wall Street, 2013. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Ahoy! Summer has officially arrived with cool waters and sunny days in tow. What better way to spend a relaxing evening than on your superyacht, filled to the brim with multi-million dollar works of art. All the better to entertain your gobsmacked guests over champagne and cornflakes. That's right: cornflakes. Just be sure your tots in tiaras know not to mix the blue chip art with the snack food. It's happened before. As yachts become increasingly popular storage facilities for expensive works, complete with temperature control and middling tax regulations, a few pieces have already fallen victim to the dangers of the high seas, unaided by distracted passengers and hapless crews. If you're considering toting your own collection out over a massive body of water, be sure to read on before you do so. And don't say CULTURED didn't warn you.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982. Image courtesy of AP.

Basquiat v. Cornflakes:

In 2019, it was a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that fell victim to cereal. A billionaire was keeping an unnamed work by the artist a little too close to the dining table. The children aboard the ship found the work scary and, in turn, threw their cornflakes at it. The crew, unaware of the prestige of the piece, then furthered the damage by wiping the cornflakes off in an attempt to restore the painting, which according to an Insider article was worth $110.5 million. Oxford-educated art historian Pandora Mather-Lees, who offers lessons in proper art handling for sailors, told the Guardian that there are superyachts floating around with “better collections than some national museums,” describing a yacht containing more than 800 artworks valued at double the vessel’s price.

Triangle of Sadness, 2022. Image courtesy of Landmark Media.

Regretful Revelers:

A crew member pillow fight ended in a broken lamp worth £90,000, according to ArtRatio. The event occurred at the end of Christmas and New Year charter when a soaring pillow from the deck struck the lamp in the saloon. In another mishap, a popped champagne cork flew straight into the canvas of an undisclosed multi-million-pound work. "I often joke that if I had made these up, nobody would believe me! The champagne cork popping into a painting is a classic, yet sounds like a cliché," Mather-Lees told the publication. In response to these events, Helen Robertson, a conservator at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and former seagoing chief steward, curated a symposium in 2019 to “promote best practice” for maintaining and protecting overseas art collections, according to the Observer. Robertson’s £395 per ticket event prompted debate among art historians and conservators, with Sir Roy Strong, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum remarking, "What are you going to have eventually? One of the world’s few Leonardos floating about on the waves?"

Mark Rothko, No. 3/No. 13, 1949. Image courtesy of the The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. and the Museum of Modern Art.

A Murakami Jigsaw Puzzle:

But what if your artwork doesn't fit in your grand salon? One seafarer reconfigured a Mark Rothko painting by turning it 90 degrees, Tilman Kriesel, founder of an art advisory firm, told the Guardian. As a mid-20th century abstract expressionist, Rothko is recognized for his signature composition of colorful, vertically aligned rectangular shapes and was notoriously particular about who could access his paintings. Similarly, the advisor recounted another client who cut up a piece from Japanese modern artist Takashi Murakami in order to accommodate sizing for his “beach club” display at the rear end of the superyacht. "The artist would probably be turning in his grave," said Kriesel of Rothko, "but we took a deep breath and said ‘it’s your painting, do what you like.'”

Andy Warhol, Brillo Boxes, 1964. Image courtesy of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Whoopsie-Daisies From Art World Novices:

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are famed for their lovely, monumental wrapping jobs. But if you weren't familiar with the pair, might a smaller edition of that meticulously arranged artwork not just look like, well, plain old wrapping paper? Such was the case for a captain who, upon receiving a work for storage on his ship, tore brown paper and string off one of their creations, leaving its owner horrified. Elsewhere, an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad sculpture was mistaken for some extra cleaning supplies and was left in a wheelie bin on deck. According to Nautilist International, a similar piece sold in 2010 for $3,050,500. This edition? Not likely to rake in the same auction price after its bout of sun exposure.