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Art on Superyachts: What to Consider When Keeping Art on Board

It is perhaps unsurprising that superyacht owners, who appreciate the intricate beauty of these floating palaces, are also quite fond of priceless pieces of art. When it comes to buying and displaying art, discretion is key, so while we know that more and more pieces are being showcased aboard yachts, details are few and far between. The superyacht Aviva is believed to have Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1974–1977 adorning her interior, among several others. MY Revelry is known to be home to pieces by Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Diebenkorn, while Topaz has several hundred pieces collected by owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan on board. With Topaz costing £350 million, it is likely that the artwork far exceeds the value of the yacht.

The possibility for things to go horribly wrong seems glaringly obvious. From theft to accidental damage, high humidity and sea air, and the increased amount of UV light, surely superyachts aren’t the ideal spaces to curate art. What we’re finding in fact, is this isn’t the case, and today there are some superyachts sailing the seas with more pieces of art on them than you’d find in a national museum. Here we take a look at some of the factors which need to be considered to turn a superyacht into a floating gallery.

Lighting and Climate

Damaging UV light is a major issue for artwork on board superyachts. After all, owners don’t have superyachts to keep the curtains closed all day and not soak up those spectacular Caribbean views. In order to keep natural light from damaging the masterpieces, specialized, highly protective anti-glare and anti-reflective glass is being used. While superyachts are inherently not the best place to avoid UV sunlight - water reflects about 10% of UV and sea foam reflects 25% - careful placement combined with specialist protective equipment not only protects the owner’s investment, but ensures it complies with stringent insurance requirements.

In addition to UV light, air quality and temperature are important factors in the proper preservation of art. Salty air, humidity, wind and heat can all cause damage, and so specially designed climatic controls are being installed in areas where art is on display. With alarms announcing atmospheric changes – the perfect temperature is 20ºC - it is now possible to create a true museum-quality atmosphere on board.

Placement and Installation

Part of dealing with unwanted UV light and atmospherics is also deciding on placement of art aboard the yacht. And installation isn’t quite as simple as hanging it on the wall the way you could in a house. The natural movement of boats, including vibrations from engines, means valuable pieces need to be affixed securely, and even more so for those times when adverse weather conditions can rock even the largest of superyachts. Of course art doesn’t always mean paintings, and both wall art and sculptures (or even historical literature) need to be screwed down in a manner that doesn’t damage the item, as well as being kept away from any strong smells. Taking cues from museums, superyachts are using a special type of clear glue or putty which is strong enough to ensure complete safety but can also be removed with no lasting damage when the time comes.

Art is often bought with a specific décor or interior design in mind, and while superyachts boast a huge amount of interior space, large works can be tricky to fit in. Considering lower ceiling heights, as well as areas where spray or even flying champagne corks can cause damage, it’s best to work with an interior designer from the get go to decide how and where are particular piece might create a focal point.

Specially-trained Crew

Superyacht interior crews are highly trained. From silver service to flower arranging, their knowledge of the luxury lifestyle and its discerning guests is second to none. And these days, getting trained in caring for art is a rapidly-growing requirement for chief stewards and stewardesses. Offered by expert conservators, crew are being given the basics in how to look after artworks, as well as what to do and who to call in the case of an emergency. Stories of children throwing cornflakes at pieces of art, only for it to be wiped off by well-meaning crew are becoming a thing of the past as owners demand more awareness of their assets.

Security

In April 2019 a Picasso painting worth £21 million, which was stolen 20 years ago from a superyacht in Antibes, was miraculously recovered. While stories of yacht robberies are thankfully rare, and theft of art even rarer, this story does highlight a major consideration for owners. With piracy in some parts of the world on the rise, many yachts are being kitted out with not just CCTV and Wireless Protection Systems, but for the more valuable pieces, a full Close Protection service.

Customs

A few years ago the superyacht belonging to Spanish banking billionaire Jaime Botin was arrested in Corsica by French authorities for attempting to take a Picasso painting worth more than €25 million out of Spain. According to Spanish authorities, the painting is part of the country’s heritage and cannot be removed from the country – it is a battle he is still fighting. The customs laws regarding art can be a complex arena, and experts may need to be consulted when planning the yacht’s itinerary and travel logistics. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) regulations may also need to be considered if the artwork contains one of 36,000 species – including ivory, corals and crocodile skins – which require a license to transport across countries.

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