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For the superyacht industry professional

The art of caring

Article by ONBOARD Magazine

Pandora Mather-Lees

Pandora Mather-Lees looks at how a little bit of art appreciation and knowledge can go a long way to avoiding some embarrassing situations due to bad cleaning practices or avoidable damage

When a captain unwittingly unwrapped a Christo & Jean Claude masterpiece and threw the ‘wrapping’ down into the engine room he could have had no idea this would cause his owner to utter cries of despair upon embarkation.

As Captain of a superyacht, priorities centre around health & safety, itineraries, upkeep and maintenance of the exterior, interior, environment and crew on board, not to mention the important aspects of ensuring the owner’s requirements are met to the highest standard possible.

The additional burden of responsibility for specialist interior assets is now becoming part of the overall responsibility and it is not just related to paintings. Some vessels have hundreds of pieces and there is often limited inventory to say what exists, background documentation or importantly, knowledge about how to care for it.

The Christo artwork anecdote shows why learning a little art appreciation could go a long way towards avoiding embarrassing moments, discomfort and financial loss. Yachting crew cannot be expected to have such depth of knowledge, but questions should be posed and had there been good co-ordination between the supplier, the shipper, the owner and those on board, undoing paper and string that was part of the fabric of the work itself might not have happened. Many of the accidents that happen to art on board are because those around it are unaware and generally not exposed to fine art at close quarters. They do not necessarily know who the artist is or characteristics of their practice and this stretches to understanding questions of value and also understanding the superyacht owner as art collector. Owners will fall into different categories and where some will simply say “let’s get another one, or I don’t want it any more”, others will be distressed to have a prized piece not displayed to its best advantage. Whichever it is, avoiding incidents remains paramount.

Avoiding damage
Damage on board can generally be averted through practical training. The instance of a Jan Frydrych crystal sculpture which was chipped when a stewardess placed it on the floor, to be knocked by an unsuspecting guest, is a case in point. Crew should avoid moving or touching art works as much as possible and ideally conduct a risk assessment when they do. Additionally, cleaning should involve the least invasive methods first, prefaced by careful observation and review of documentation. At the onset of a piece coming on board, there should be a consultation and communication as to what it is, how it should be cleaned, stored, moved and displayed.

Cleaning with care
Dry over wet methods are important with cleaning and avoiding chemicals is paramount. This cannot be repeated enough because cleaning agent damage recurs again and again. How often do we see someone spraying an object liberally rather than dousing the cloth they are holding and how often do we see them using the same chemical spray to clean surface material in the same way? When dry over wet methods cannot be adopted, the wet clean should be carefully controlled, with a little foresight and a good imagination. Further it should start with water rather than chemicals. Some staff on board have cleaned gilt frames using wet methods. There is a pre-conception that metallic looking surface is pure metal. However, some gilt is water soluble so will rub away and even if it is not, it can be damaged by rubbing and cleaning agents. Even glass and marble can be damaged by bleach or by careless wiping which erases the coating on the surface. Another hazard with wet cleaning methods is vulnerability of the surrounding area – creating dirty ‘drips’ which fall off the object onto another surface or carpet can lead to irreversible damage.

When staff have nothing to do, their superior will ask them to go and clean something to look busy. This is a mistake as overcleaning is usually more responsible for damage in a luxury home or yacht than under cleaning. Using chemicals to a lesser degree is a risk avoidance tactic in itself. A recent story of a senior officer dropping bright blue Windolene on a luxury black carpet comes to mind – the colour would not erase. Carpets are generally valuable on a superyacht and in some cases might be antique. Either way, replacing it is a considerable hassle. So bearing this in mind, staff should learn the ten ‘agents of deterioration’ the most damaging elements to valuable objects and they should take other basic training in care and placement of objects. This would communicate the susceptibility of certain materials to undergo change and never to attempt “damage limitation” when it goes wrong … this inevitably makes it worse!

The additional burden of responsibility for specialist interior assets is now becoming part of the overall responsibility and it is not just related to paintings.

Placing artwork
As for placement, light (both natural and artificial) can badly damage an object over time as can saline air and changes in climate. Climate concerns are not just about temperature, but humidity and length of exposure. The ideal conditions for the former would be 18-22C and for the latter 50% humidity. Additionally lux hours (exposure to light calculated by strength of light by the number of hours exposed) should be managed and much can be achieved. For instance, valuable objects can be put in storage or covered up when not travelling in guest mode. Objects can be rotated so they are not exposed in one particular spot. Technology has moved on here dramatically and the engineers should be appraised as to the consequences.

Frankentek yacht security advises on types of lighting best suited to enhancing and protecting a painting as well as installing beams around a work to alert crew when something approaches its vicinity.

ArtRatio provides light sensitive cases which are surface smoked to protect from , but which reveal the underlying object on approach to the casing. Glass and Perspex frames such as that offered by TruVue both reflect the light and enable perfect viewing of the object with white water glass technology. In all these cases, enjoyment of the possession does not need to be compromised when considering protection.

Designer pieces
Crew should remember that the object does not necessarily have to be an artwork. Nowadays, design is art and designer pieces command prices higher than much so called fine art on the market. The types of design seen at PAD London and Paris fairs and often delivered to some of the most prestigious yacht interiors are extremely valuable. They may be new or indeed an antique, the newer often with highly expensive lacquers are the harder to repair. Design and decorative arts pieces command five or six figures for something seemingly plain or perhaps old and battered looking. There was a case of a lamp damaged on a yacht that was worth €105,000. Nobody had any idea and the material which was torn was specialised. This demonstrates that having the right documentation to hand on each object and having a good system to capture what exists, it’s condition and other factors is vital.

There are other options too, rather than having a piece on board, an owner may choose to store the object safely and have a copy made. A number of options exist for this such as having a replica painted or use of technology to scan a painting and to 3D print an exact copy from the scanned file. Arius Technology, based in Vancouver, deploys highly sensitive data sets which means a file can be captured and stored in case of future damage or loss. Not only is the file itself an ‘insurance policy’ against a total loss or possible placement, it will inform both condition and conservation well in advance of any appraisal by the naked eye.

Finding help
So, where can one go to find help? ACREW Maritime Membership association offers training from Pandora Art Services at its events in yachting destinations and so does The VIP Service School in Palma. The Practical Care of On Board Art collections is offered by Pandora Art Services around the world in the classroom or on board the yacht along with risk assessments and collections management advice.

In conclusion, it is useful to remember that what can happen on land can happen at sea. With the vessel being essentially a second home, treasured possessions will come on board. For the art historian, the loss is not just financial, but every time a work is damaged, destroyed or indeed stolen, a piece of our history is lost to us. The Picasso painting that was stolen and discovered folded in four was damaged almost beyond repair. With good conservation, much can be rectified, but with good practice the loss can be averted in the first place.

For more details contact Pandora www.artonsuperyachts.com