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A guide to curating an art collection on board a superyacht
17th June 2022
Yacht Art: everything you need to know about curating on board art collections

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A guide to curating an art collection on board a superyacht

(Image Courtesy of Arius Technology)


Art and yachts have a symbiotic history. For centuries, boats have captured the imaginations of revered artists, featured in paintings by JMW Turner and Winslow Homer, to impressionists like Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gough and Alfred Sisley. And while today’s superyachts might well be considered design marvels in their own rights (Artist Jeff Koons even turned his hand to designing a yacht hull), these vessels have also become homes to the world’s most valuable artworks.

It, therefore, no surprise to see that art festivals make it onto the superyacht calendar as key events for owners and charterers to attend throughout the year; major events for the superyacht crowd include The Venice Biennale or Art Basel in Miami. But with paintings and sculptures sometimes costing more than the superyacht itself, can they truly be safe on the water? We talk to industry experts to learn their commandments for keeping art on yachts.


What is considered art on a yacht?

The idea of what constitutes art or cultural property has always been a subject for debate. But Benjamin Maltby, a partner at London’s Keystone Law firm, breaks it down more simply when it comes to bringing art on board; “Any items which are not part of the yacht’s equipment or stores could be considered art – or at least items which should be insured separately.” Things to take into account outside of paintings or sculptures might include rare books, fine wines, ornate chandeliers or lighting fixtures, rugs or antique furniture. Maltby also notes that, “while opinions on what even constitutes ‘art’ vary considerably” there are some things that shouldn’t be brought on board because of legal or insurance issues. “The purchase or importation of works made from prohibited materials, such as ivory, or parts of endangered species, may be a criminal offence,” specifies Maltby. Art historian and Royal Society of Arts Fellow Pandora Mather-Lees clarifies that CITES convention regulations, which prevent the trafficking of such items, have been agreed between around 182 countries concerning 36,000 species of flora and fauna. “Ivory is the main contender here,” says Mather-Lees who founded to protect owners and crew, “but there are other items which have been seized from yachts such as a rosewood guitar and a Damien Hirst butterflies painting.”


 What type of art is found on superyachts?

Art collections on board yachts vary greatly, but it’s not uncommon to see nautical-themed paintings on board. During her time working in the art industry and educating superyacht crews on how to care for yacht art, Mather-Lees says that collections on board have typically included works by “Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Monet and the impressionists.” She also cites modern artists like Lucio Fontana and works by sculptors like Kaws, Takashi Murakami and Dale Chihuly as popular, with “about 70 pieces of crystal sculpture from Artsio Gallery artists such as Beranek, Frydrych and Prosek residing on yachts that I know of.” But each collection is unique; “owners like to have their feature pieces which differentiate them and their interior from every other interior by the same designer,” says Mather-Lees.

Giovanni Gasparini, art advisor at ALTIQA MFO Monaco, describes yachts without art work as feeling “naked,” and urges that owners use yachting as a golden opportunity to showcase their character. “One should not dismiss the social aspect of displaying art to guests; what you have on the wall ultimately speaks about your personality, culture and wealth. To the trained eye, great art is the pinnacle of cultural expression.”


How should owners protect their art on board?

Like all valuable objects, it is crucial that conditions on board are carefully maintained. Luckily, modern superyachts are now designed with air-conditioning, lighting and humidity control systems that rival those found in art galleries. The 10 agents of deterioration, as defined by the Canadian Conservation Institution, outline definitively the conditions that could damage artwork stored on board if not correctly adjusted as required. These comprise:

  • Temperature
  • Light and UV light
  • Humidity
  • Pests
  • Pollutants
  • Water
  • Physical forces
  • Fire hazards
  • Thieves and vandals
  • dissociation (loss of information surrounding the object’s provenance or history)


As “physical forces” like movement and vibrations are significantly greater at sea, on board artwork must be securely fastened to the yacht or hung with “museum glue” for extra secure installation. Mather-Lees adds that, alongside these basic elements, owners have to consider the salinity of the air at sea and how this could affect artworks. She advises clients on special framing and cases that can help prevent light and external damages as well, adding that “on a yacht it is possible to create a fairly good environment because the technology is there”


Where is the best place to install art on a yacht?

“Where the artwork is placed is of course, critical,” says Mather-Lees. Where a piece of art is located in a yacht is crucial not only in order to best display it and optimise the viewing experience on board, but to ensure its protection from the elements. “Both on land and at sea, it is often the case that artwork may end up being in direct sunlight or impacted by light and heat, hitting it from one side so that would deteriorate faster than the other” explains Mather-Lees. “Also, being close to the galley with a lot of oils and steam, or near the spa and bathroom areas where there is a lot of steam is also a danger zone. One should also avoid placing art under sprinklers, or storing it below in dank air as artwork has been known to develop spores. It is really important if you can, to rotate the art, so it is not always in one place,” says Mather-Lees.

Gasparini explains that “passionate art collectors would usually think about where to place their artwork while discussing the planning of their new yachts. Installing a sculpture on a boat can require modification to the construction and sometimes to the artwork. The owner, art advisor and the design architect would have to agree upon this well in advance, in order to accommodate issues such as weight, dimensions in a dynamic context, overall style compatibility, conservations and cleaning issues.”

Above all, ensuring that artwork has been properly installed and that conditions can be maintained inside the yacht are crucial for securing the correct insurance – a key necessity for protecting artworks on board. Moreover, general degradation is not insurable so it is important to avoid this as it will affect value.

Artwork Insurance

Every owner will need to insure their artwork on board, as general marine insurances will not cover such valuable items. Maltby specifies that “separate policies are normally needed for each and every artwork on board,” with surveying of on board conditions and renewal of the insurance to “be undertaken annually.” He adds that “owners should be careful not to assume that the rules applying to their yachts will also apply to artworks.”

Other insurance clauses for art and superyacht owners to consider is that rules and taxation brackets vary between countries, with artwork to be imported and taxed under a “temporary admission basis.” It has been reported that Greece has one of the highest tax rates for importing art within the EU at 13 per cent, while the UK has the lowest at just 5 per cent of the value of the art. Maltby adds that, since Brexit, “insurance hasn’t been affected. Subject to any Temporary Admission (‘TA’) arrangements, VAT can be payable on imports of artworks from the EU – usually at 5 per cent. There is generally no duty payable on such imports. Exports of artworks to the EU are likely to be subject to 10 per cent VAT, with no duty being payable.”

Finally, Maltby notes that “Insurance policies will often contain geographical navigational limits. Beyond such limits, the yacht will be off-cover. It’s a good idea to discuss travel plans with insurers.”


Crew training

Superyacht crew often have experience dealing with valuable items like fine china and glassware, but can lack specialist training for protecting art on board. Mather-Lees’ ‘Art On Superyachts’ training courses for crew have been specifically designed to educate superyacht staff on how to care for artwork and what to do in an emergency, as well as giving them a general background into art history to better understand the value of a piece and be able to answer guests’ various questions about the collection. “There are many stories I have come across about crew popping champagne corks into paintings, or footballs and cushions being thrown into paintings and decorative objects. I’ve also heard of multi-million-pound paintings sitting behind bars and dining tables, or even in the bathroom or near the sundeck – if crew are aware that these objects are unique and priceless, they can help to try to avoid hazards.”

Mather-Lees adds that, in the case of an emergency, it’s important that crew take correct action as to not damage an artwork further. “The first point to note is that crew should do absolutely nothing and not touch it. And second, they should call me. In which case I would assess and then call in the appropriate specialist. Trying to fix something can make it worse, as in the case of an Anish Kapoor mirror sculpture, where crew damaged the artwork by trying to polish off a thumbprint, which made it worse. The artwork had to be sent back to the artist’s studio at a cost of thousands and thousands of euros.”


What extra security measures should be taken to protect valuable yacht art?

For high-value items, experts advise installing dedicated security alarm systems as well as CCTV cameras to protect against theft or damage. Mather-Lees concludes that, above all, creating a faithful copy to keep on board is common practice for superyacht owners as it minimises the risks entailed in keeping artwork at sea – especially if yachts are being used for charters. “On a charter vessel, clearly there are additional risks. Therefore, the art collection should be taken off and stored safely and copies put in their place.”

Mather-Lees specifies that precise modern technology now allows for faithful copies to be made to ultimately secure the collection while still offering a curated collection on board. “I work with Arius Technology which 3D scans the artworks to a 10th of a human hair, which allows the painting to be reproduced via 3D printing as an exact replica where no one would actually know the difference. This is a better solution for charter, and the insurance would be much cheaper too.  It takes the pressure off everyone – remembering that the management of art on board is a huge burden for the crew.”


Gasparini agrees that swapping out high value art during the charter season is usually a safer option. “Of course there can be different art on board while the yacht is chartered. Moving art is easy when done by companies accustomed to it, and art can be easily stored in safe places such as the Monaco Freeport. More ‘neutral’ works can then replace the owner’s ones to appeal to a broader charter public.”

Ultimately, the best way for owners to keep artwork safe and protected on board is to work with specialists. And when it’s time to update your collection, cruising your yacht toward events like Art Basel will help you source for new items.