Art on the High Seas

On my first cruise, the last thing I was expecting was an “art experience.”  I pictured a tacky, Vegas-style floating hotel, complete with endless buffets and cheesy entertainment. To be fair, this is more or less what I found in terms of the shows and the food, but I was surprised to discover that almost every inch of the ship was decorated with museum-quality art.

I have since found out that cruise lines spend millions of dollars to amass impressive collections to adorn their fleet. And they contract curators to oversee each new ship, often commissioning new works to complete the themed displays that they create.

19th Century Kid (Sir Joshua Reynolds) by Yinka Shonibare; Image: Tracey Eckersley

On my 2011 cruise onboard the Celebrity Millennium, I walked through one of the lounges and came across an installation that looked a lot like Yinka Shonibare’s work, only to discover that it was! Since I have made special trips to museums and galleries to see his exhibitions, this was a pleasant surprise.

Love by Robert Indiana; Image: Tracey Eckersley

On the same ship, I came across a version of Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture and one of Dale Chuhuly glass chandeliers.

Untitled by Dale Chuhuly; Image: Tracey Eckersley

Unfortunately, I only found out on disembarkation day that the ship had a self-guided iPod tour; Celebrity’s newer ships now have an iPad version available in several languages for individuals to enjoy.

Glassblowing on Celebrity Solstice; Image: Behind the Glass (CMOG)

For cruisers looking for a more interactive experience, Celebrity offers art classes and, on three of their ships, they have partnered with the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) to present live glassblowing demonstrations.

Brainwaves by Jan van Munster; Image: Tracey Eckersley

On my most recent cruise, I made more of an effort to spend some time examining the collection onboard.  And while Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas didn’t offer a comprehensive art tour or boast such famous artists, I found new favourites in their innovative exhibition centered on the theme of light. I was captivated by Jan van Munster’s Brainwave, which documents the human brain’s response to certain words in neon.

Sweet by Kim Koga; Image: Tracy Eckersley

While many of the artworks in the hallways were annoyingly anonymous, those in the main stairways had museum-style labels. Therefore, I was able to learn that the day-glow pickles that caught my eye were artist Kim Koga’s homage to her grandmother, who canned pickles and plums on her farm after emigrating from Japan to Northern California.

Infinite Abyssal by Miguel Chevalier; Image: Tracey Eckersley

If you take a cruise vacation, make sure to take a break from staring at the sea long enough to check out the ship’s art collection. What you find may surprise you!

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