Floating Art Collections: Ultimate Luxury on Superyachts

Elysian Koglmeier | May 13, 2022

Image credit: Viktor Ritsvall on Unsplash

For some art collectors, their artworks live beyond the walls of their home, but bringing their art collections to high seas comes with additional risks.

Artwork Archive helps collectors from around the world organize, manage and preserve their art collections. But what happens when those artworks aren’t on land? Some high net worth collectors may be lucky enough to install art in their luxury yachts that tour oceans around the globe. But even more those extreme high sea cases, the same best practices for cataloging, protecting and showcasing their art stays true.

With the prepatory saying “one by land, two by sea” in our minds, we were interested to learn more about collection management on the water so we met with Pandora Mather-Lees of ArtOnSuperyachts.com. We wanted to learn more about the process for managing art on Superyachts–how collections management might work in this unique environment.

Since we’re in the business of helping collectors protect and preserve their artworks, we were curious to learn of the types of risks or damage that might occur and how it can be preempted when on the ocean. 

Pandora tells us more:


The Superyacht environment is a special one.

A yacht is a passion asset unlike a private aircraft–each one is unique and the apogee of luxury status.  Similarly, the artifacts adorning the interior represent the same values. 

Superyacht owners are generally art collectors too. They want to see their hard work reflected in their place of leisure, a home from home, a place to entertain and impress guests and somewhere to express their unique taste and to distinguish themselves as culturally literate.

Whilst many may think that housing the best of Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Claude Monet and Claude Lorraine two thousand miles out in international waters as sheer lunacy, this is not necessarily the case. 


Give your art a new life on a yacht.

Yachts are sturdily built, they have highly sophisticated environmental controls and if the artwork is placed far from the elements, it may even fare better than in other places. 

More to the point the art can at least be seen and appreciated rather than sitting in a freeport or a museum storeroom.


But consider the perils of damage and loss on the vessel.

Nevertheless, the Superyacht owner and their crew carry a significant burden. They are responsible for the world’s cultural heritage and a total loss is more than financial, it is emotional and historic, robbing future generations of their heritage and aesthetic pleasures.

Collections management is thus an important part of private collections and the Superyacht environment must be set up so as to avoid such losses. Given that most damage is due to humans and human error, training of crew members, captains and yacht management companies is vital.


Knowing a little about art and art history goes a very long way.

One of the key issues is ignorance of what is in your trusted care. If you simply don’t know that the white canvas sitting behind the dining table is a multi-million-dollar Lucio Fontana, only one of its kind, you may treat it as wallpaper. 

Knowing a little about art and art history goes a very long way. This is where training comes in.  Whether a Superyacht, hotel or household, if we invest in our employees’ training, give them curiosity and the knowledge to do their job properly, they will be able to serve their owner and protect their assets.

This may seem obvious, but stories abound of people kicking a football around which was lobbed into a painting, inadvertently popping champagne corks into a canvas, damaging a crystal sculpture by placing it in a washing machine and smudging fingerprints over the mirrored surface of an Anish Kapoor sculpture. There are many more of these tales of woe, some will never be avoided but many could have been.

Check out Artwork Archive's online art inventory database built for collectors and art professionals around the world.


Why it's important to have a collection management system on board.

A collections management system like Artwork Archive records what is on board so that the owner can keep track of the collections across all properties. For instance, when items are moved either on/off or elsewhere around the yacht, this should be logged accordingly using a feature like Artwork Archive’s Location tracker.

Location on board is vital for the preservation of your art. Artworks should be rotated from time to time so they are not exposed unduly to light or saline air from one angle. Recording when they are covered (so the lumens can be controlled and measured) is advisable. Consider logging how they are stowed as well. This way you can easily record the condition of the artwork before and after maintenance. 

Collections management on the yacht should also account for change of crew and rotation of crew so that any changes to the artwork can be covered in a handover. Moreover, the Standard Operating Procedures of the vessel (the SOPs) should include guidance on collections care. 


Ensure the yacht crew has guidance on collections care.

Collections documentation should guide the crew on how to care for objects and what to do if something goes wrong.  

Conservation is so important at sea or in the household as insurance won’t cover general wear and tear.  When something gets damaged crew should contact their manager, curator or a Superyacht art consultant to advise how best to deal with it.  They can then assess the work and find someone to address the problem. However, this is easier said than done. Damage can occur anywhere around the world so if you are docked in Sint Maarten in the Caribbean, it will be harder to resolve than in Antibes. 


What happens when an artwork is damaged at sea?

Generally, it is better to leave a damaged piece as is rather than to try and fix it. In one case a Captain was overheard saying he would hose the artworks down following a fire “and they would be fine” and in the case of the Kapoor sculpture, trying to clean off the thumb marks made it worse, so much so, the object had to be shipped back to the studio at a cost of many thousands of dollars. 

Often in the case of contemporary art, the artist must gauge whether it is something that can be made good or not. Often, they’d rather have the artwork destroyed, or disown it, rather than have it on display damaged. This is their prerogative as they own the moral rights in their artwork whilst still alive and for some years after death. 

Image credit: Ralph Ravi Kayden on Unsplash


Maintain stable environments for your art when possible.

When the yacht is in “guest mode,” it may be hard to perfectly control the environment for artwork. All installed artworks should be in a place in which humidity, temperature and light are regulated. When the yacht is out of guest mode, consider covering up the yacht or putting it into climatized storage. 


What about insurance?

Insurance can be an issue. The hull and marine insurance on the vessel will have low coverage of artwork unless explicitly listed on the schedule. Most art collectors will have a specialist fine art policy and this will extend to the yacht if the insurer is duly informed and a schedule given. They may have to pay an additional premium, depending on their cover and exclusions.

A collections management system is an ideal place to log and access any special insurance considerations.


What about export risk?

Apart from the collections management aspect, Superyachts are a special case where export risk is concerned. Moving in and out of territorial waters and onto the high seas, various legal liabilities challenge the owner.  

For instance, endangered species laws mean that ivory, turtle shell, certain corals, woods, bones and skins may require a CITES licence to take abroad. Cultural heritage laws require an export licence for anything a host country deems a national treasure. So there is risk there when taking artifacts outside of territorial waters.  

Superyacht owners have landed in jail falling foul of this where some countries take this more seriously than others. There is also a new EU regulation (2019/880) which will be enforced and policed by 2025. This cultural goods act is an EU wide initiative designed to prevent trafficking of blood antiquities across the region. 

Whilst national laws are already in place, this legislation will further prevent the movement and sale of many artifacts over €18,000 or 200 years old or archaeologically excavated objects over 250 years old.  

Again, a collections database is a good place to record your artifacts so that you have documentation for authorities if requested. 


What about taxes?

Finally, a plethora of tax concerns will inevitably apply to the owner and the fiscal environment is full of complexities. Artwork and indeed the yachts it resides in, will often be owned by one or more corporate structures and the domicile of the beneficial owner will affect the liability of goods coming into ports. 

The flag status and classification status of the vessel may also have some bearing, but ultimately the tax advisor of the owner, family office or company owning the vessel should provide guidance to those on the vessel and responsible for the artwork. Not to do so could result in hefty fees.


What can happen on land can happen at sea. 

On the high seas however, there are additional risks which, if taken seriously, can be avoided or minimized. 

The Superyacht industry is starting to realize that the billions of dollars of art on the water are part of the owners’ asset portfolio and to damage them will mean a significant loss financially. 

For those of us in the art world we recognize the loss to cultural heritage and for many others it can mean an emotional loss where objects have deep sentimental value.  Art is unique and once damaged they are marred or lost forever.

Whether your art collection is on land or sea, protect it properly with an art database like Artwork Archive. Sign up for a free trial today.

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