Are we bringing the Modigliani on board Darling?

Crew on superyachts are presented with many challenges.  This is widely recognized and there will always be unpredictable incidents occurring on board (outside or inside) to test one’s resilience.  None is perhaps more challenging however for interior crew than managing a situation involving damage to paintings and other priceless belongings.  The heightened awareness of potential harm to our cultural heritage has prompted a timely forum next March aimed at combating disasters at sea.

Why, one wonders, does a superyacht owner choose to have a sculpture, a delicate work on paper or canvas of historical importance transported thousands of miles through international borders to land in a floating home where it lies vulnerable to the elements, changes of climate and hapless accidents? Even if it reaches the vessel intact, it still needs to be unpacked, installed, alarmed, cleaned and eventually returned or possibly moved to another location.

A floating home is just that and many superyachts are nowadays treated as a second home.  The owners naturally want to enjoy their possessions, to keep them close and to share them in front of guests.  It’s all about the experience and deriving pleasure from the fruits of one’s labours. A fantastic piece of fine art can complement, significantly, what will undoubtedly be an impressive design scheme and delight all on board. Remember too that enthusiastic and creative interior designers will be keen to propose a programme for the yacht, having perhaps completed the primary residence and will recommend a solution to suit expensive tastes be it understated luxury or sheer opulence.

Thus, ensues a veritable catalogue of potential hazards from marred ebony veneers, to a pierced Picasso or sculptures with features worn away by continual fondling and pampering.  None of this is fabrication, these are actual scenarios, ones which adversely affected the appearance, the material integrity and sadly, the value of fine art pieces on yachts. From another perspective, our cultural heritage is often at risk too where historical objects are on board, or indeed where the yacht itself is a classic craft.

For the one appreciating asset on board, there is a shocking lack of awareness amongst crew as to what the objects are, how they should be cared for and how to fix something following an incident. Stewardesses, engineers, and captains should not, of course, expect to be art experts.  However, many seemingly plain and insignificant items can be immensely valuable.  One stewardess was overheard saying “We’ve got a lot of art around and a sculpture, but I have no idea what it is or how valuable it is – it doesn’t look expensive, it’s quite plain, but I guess I should know”.   For all, we know this could be a valuable minimalist piece such as a white Lucio Fontana ‘Tagli’ (slash) painting, incidentally worth millions.  And how would you be expected to know?

Now it is possible to offer minimum standards of specialist training which can be incorporated into Standard Operating Procedures and thus raise awareness of the issues and posit good practice. Understanding the owner as art collector along with the basic mechanics of the art world can go a long way to protecting assets and can help to secure a good relationship with one’s employer, management and visitors as knowledge and concern for their possessions are demonstrated.

Typically, all household staffs are encouraged to clean to perfection on a regular basis. Overcleaning, using the wrong substances and misunderstanding the materials being cleaned (gilt picture frames do not suffer metal polish gladly) are classic examples of what not to do. Accidents also occur when the yacht is out of guest mode.  Crew may need to move items around or secure them before making way.  Or they may be keen to pack up and get onshore with just a little too much urgency.  Reported cases of damage have resulted in hefty insurance claims for paintings, design objects such as lamps and even carpets which can often be priceless antique textiles in their own right.

Understanding the environmental and circumstantial risks is therefore paramount.  Career-limiting actions can be avoided saving weeks of pain in costly repairs and restoration. Moreover, investment in crew training has other benefits.  Crew will be able to demonstrate to Captains, owners and future employers that they have superior skills and an interest in their surroundings. It will also offer them fresh perspectives and alternatives for future careers post-yachting. One example is that of Helen Robertson, Object and Preventive Conservator at the National Maritime Museum who started her involvement with the yachting industry as a Chief Stewardess.  During her career, Helen became increasingly concerned about the protection and preservation of the objects on board and retrained in conservation specialising in the protection of marine interiors and material science. After completing her masters, and with many years’ experience, Helen’s role now involves interventive treatments on an array of historical objects and the monitoring and control of challenging environments to ensure the long-term preservation of this national collection.

The National Maritime Museum now offers accredited courses at their new training and conservation centre in Kidbrooke South London. Here they teach detailed aspects of protection and care for working maritime environment and offer bespoke packages for superyachts in conservation and preservation as part of the SOPs. Pandora Art Services similarly offers one-day foundation level training for crew and vessels covering the wider topic of the art world and art appreciation, the environment, conservation cleaning, art handling and logistics.  There is also a one-day art consultancy available to create an ‘Art on Board’ plan for managing and handling the collection, supported with additional specialist conservation packages from the museum. Working together they plan to both educate the industry and provide strong career paths and enlightenment for crew who will, in turn, become enriched by their growing knowledge of the few assets on board their vessels which are appreciating.

The first ever Art At Sea Symposium designed to highlight industry concerns and offer some practical solutions takes place on 1st March 2018 in London.  Yacht management companies, owners, senior crew, insurers and other industry professionals will learn from expert panellists dedicated to providing advice on how to avoid pitfalls and what to do when problems arise.

For more information and a full programme of the Art At Sea Symposium

For more information on training courses for crew (also onboard) 

The Practical Care of Onboard Art Collections

Art Onbord Planning and Management