CRUISE CHRONICLES # 3 – THE ART AUCTION

Did I mention Art Auctions at sea? Yes, they really do hold them on board the Noordam. And, to make sure we all knew about it, loudspeakers had been proudly heralding yesterday’s auction of “important contemporary works of art” since we set sail on March 26th.

 

Now these auctions, I soon discovered, are definitely not for the fainthearted, nor for those who have even a rudimentary appreciation of art and nor, most significantly, for the stone cold sober. The latter being the main reason, I suspect, why those in charge of the auction were offering free champagne to anyone simply for turning up in the right place at the designated hour. And, believe me, competition is fierce. There are several events going on in bars, lounges and theatres all over the ship at all times of the day and night. Most of them connected, directly or peripherally, with the consummation of vast quantities of alcohol.

 

Of course, leading up to the auction, the Art Gallery was exhibiting their expansive collection of paintings all this past week at its venue on the third deck, the Promenade Deck. And I actually saw several passengers coerced into the purchase of artworks and arranging for them to be packed, insured and shipped to their homes in the US, Japan or South Korea. This surprised me since I think I would neither be exaggerating nor lying to say that the paintings were artworks in name only and lacked any skill, talent or innovation.

 

Naturally though, as soon as I stood outside the gallery musing on how dreadful a particular painting was, an eager young salesman, dressed in a pin-striped suit, who would not have looked out of place in some second-rate provincial auction house selling household effects of a recently-deceased, jumped out from behind a potted plant and declared, “It is a wonderful piece, isn’t it? Doesn’t it just speak to you?”

 

“Not unless it’s screaming, “Don’t buy me!” I joked.

 

The assistant forced a reluctant smile but then, immediately recovering his composure, did what all art salesmen are trained to do, he tried to sell me another one – a bigger one, a more expensive one and one that might even have had difficulty being sold at a knockdown price in Walmart.

 

He guided me to the back of the gallery and pointed out a large red abstract oil, with random splashes of thick blue, green and yellow blobs, curiously entitled, “Day at the Seaside”. He had one important lesson to learn, I thought. Contrary to what he believed, bigger did not necessarily mean better. And, in this particular painting was a case in point.

 

“Perhaps this one might interest you? It’s my absolute favourite!” he cooed.

 

Sadly, this one and the next three he gallantly tried to tempt me with, failed to “speak” to me at all. And I told him as much.

 

He looked somewhat crestfallen but visibly cheered up when I said I would definitely be attending the auction.

 

And I did.

 

Before the auction commenced the auctioneer carefully spelled out the rules very clearly as though he was talking to a class of toddlers with limited vocabulary and even less comprehension. And, to emphasize the rules his assistants handed out the printed version of his speech. As a result we were all left in no doubt whatsoever about how this auction was going to be conducted.

 

Or were we? Apparently we were not. Because the lady sitting in front of me, couldn’t resist flashing the brand new 2-carat diamond ring her husband had just bought her earlier in the day at the Duty Free On-Board Jewellery Shop.

 

After the enthusiastic flashing of this brand new 2-carat beauty had inadvertently bought her two unwanted paintings (much to the chagrin of her husband), the auction was temporarily suspended until one of the assistants explained to her, in no uncertain terms, what she had done and her husband then forced her to sit on her hands for the rest of the evening. At least, I thought, when she finally arrives home she will have two more expensive souvenirs of the cruise waiting on her doorstep.

 

I think I would probably have found the whole episode even funnier had I accepted a couple of glasses of champagne beforehand. But, even as a teetotaler, I couldn’t help seeing the humour in it all.

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