In the view of Peter Knego, a collector of cruise ship art and proprietor of the Midshipcentury.com website, art has come a long way since the dawn of the 20th century when the transatlantic liner trade came into its own.
“In the earliest ocean liner days, the art tended to be more like the art you would see ashore,” Knego said, such as paintings of castles, English manors and hunting trips.
“It was all commissioned specifically for the ship,” he said. “But they were meant to distract you from the fact you were at sea. You went to sea like we go on airplanes, to get from A to B, and they didn’t want to give you that feeling you were on a ship.”
In the 1920s and ’30s, cruise ships came under the sway of the art deco movement, and after World War II, nationalism emerged as a trend, with European lines commissioning art from their indigenous art communities.
“The Italians had this whole cabal of great artists,” Knego said. “The French, same thing. You stepped onboard, you were in that country. It created a sense of pride for that nation, because those ships represented those countries.”
By the 1970s, liners had mostly disappeared, and the cruise lines began marketing middle-class vacations. At Carnival, art was the province of designer Joe Farcus, who created heavily themed, high-energy interiors.
“Most people aren’t art connoisseurs these days,” Knego said. “They’re just out for a vacation. That’s why Farcus has really become so successful — not because people have great taste but because he set an atmosphere that did lend itself to fun and partying.”
Dreamscape on the Carnival Vista harkens back to the style of former Carnival designer Joe Farcus. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Farcus designed his last Carnival ship a decade ago, and today’s art on Carnival is generally more subdued. But on the Carnival Vista, one feature in keeping with the Farcus aesthetic is Dreamscape, a pair of towering mushroom-shaped columns in the atrium and casino.
Originally conceived as a lattice-like chandelier, Dreamscape evolved into an LED light sculpture, one that could be programmed with 90 different works of art, everything from beaches and coral reefs to abstracts that look like panels of wood or starry skies.
Nigel Stables, Carnival’s director of technical entertainment, said, “There’s quite a lot of vessels out there that do have chandeliers. We wanted fresh. We wanted a piece of art. We wanted something new. And that’s how the LED concept sort of became born.”
The designs move, change color and can be reprogrammed to keep them fresh, Stables said, adding that technology is starting to become a bigger part of the art world.
“A lot of these museums now are starting to use a lot of projection and a lot of LED work as art pieces,” he said. “I think there’s been a move away from the traditional still imagery.”
Another trend on cruise ships has been toward more sculpture.
“Twenty years ago nobody was interested in spending the money on what it costs for sculpture, and today that has definitely changed,” Hall-Smith said. “Clients are very interested in three-dimensional works vs. prints on paper or canvas, which was the bulk of what was being done 15 to 20 years ago.”
Designers are jazzing up some of the pedestrian areas on cruise ships for display, including stairwells, corridors, elevator cabs and even public restrooms.
“We do very cool things with the restrooms” on Royal, ICArt’s Capuzzo said.
Even the hulls of ships have become canvases at Norwegian Cruise Line, which has commissioned hull paintings from pop-art master Peter Max and nature artist Guy Harvey, among others.
Cruise art is also increasingly global in its scope. Several lines are building ships intended for Chinese consumers and are busy looking for Asian art that will resonate with those guests.
And global contemporary art gained a new home in Miami, home of most major cruise companies, when in 2002 Art Basel set up a branch of its art fair in Miami Beach. The fair has mushroomed into a citywide phenomenon each December, and some said it has encouraged cruise lines to be more adventurous in the type of art displayed on their ships.
“I think most people would have thought of art, prior, as something that’s a beautiful piece that’s framed and hangs on a wall,” Gonzalez said. “And I think people understand that art’s so much bigger than that.”
At its best, Knego said, art on cruise ships gives guests the same feel for beauty and discovery they find at a gallery or museum.
“When you’re at a certain age and you’ve cruised a long time it’s nice to step aboard the Viking ships or even the Celebrity Solstice-class ships and get the ambience and feel like you’re in an adult, sophisticated environment,” he said.
“There’s a sense of ‘I’m walking up this stair and, oh my God! I just noticed this painting. Well, what’s on the next staircase?'”
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