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Beware Cruise Ship Auctions

2/1/2009



  

Recently a client wanted to verify the value of two signed Dali prints he had purchased on his Alaskan Cruise vacation. After a great deal of research, we told him that the signature was questionable and that the prints were common "multiples" of visual art.  It is then we learned the full story.


Art auctions on cruise ships have become controversial for a number of reasons.  The onboard auction process is almost the same for all ships:  free champagne, biding begins, the sales process takes several days, "private exclusive showings" for prospective buyers,  and the continued reinforcing of "value will increase with time" statements. 


It's a big business that suckered our client into champagne filled evenings followed by promises and ending with a purchase of two Dali signed prints for $2800.00 each, not including the added on fees such as a buyer's premium, appraisal fees, shipping and handling, frame costs, sales tax, and an "in-transit" handling fee for a grand total of $7,447.51.  It cost him $1,847.51 more than what he thought, and it was too late to back out because he had not receive the final statement until he was home and miles from the cruise.


The New York Times ran an article about Park West the provider and contractor of art auctions for cruise lines.  When something gets big enough for the Times to carry, everyone should take notice.  A number of attempts at class action lawsuits are in the making, but since the sales are on open seas there are technical issues.  If you have the time and desire go on line and read about the problems: fineartregistry.com and articles written about the cruise ship art auction controversy.  You will not only be amazed, but what you learn will make you want to run through the auction crowd yelling "stop"!


The art is not original because it is sold in multiples of signed sets.  Some are lithographs and inkjet giclees which are numbered and signed, therefore making each one a "work of visual art".  The signature does not have to be authentic because it shows that it is a print of the artist's work and signed by whoever made the run. 


Fine Art Registry raised the "buyer beware" flag for other reasons:  (a) there is no detailed auction catalog with necessary documentation; (b) there is no preview of the contract of sale until after the sale; (c) the art work is owned by the seller who has a financial interest in the piece and also "shills" (secretly raises) up the price; (d) a certified independent appraiser DOES NOT do the official appraisal; and (e) to be a bidder, you must fill out their credit card application which must be used to bid, and the final bill goes to your home after the cruise.


Our client learned that his "framed signed print" was worth $375.00 and not the $2,800 he paid. It was an interesting and expensive lesson, but isn't that what life is ---- lessons we are constantly learning.


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