As yacht ownership shifts to an increasingly younger demographic, a growing trend for unusual and highly personalized artwork has followed.
A yacht’s choice of art — from sculptures to painting and even personal framed photos — says a lot about the owners, as well as the onboard culture. Yachts often buy new art every few years, especially when ownership changes. Tastes, trends and color schemes change frequently, and the art needs to reflect the current owner’s style. And who owns yachts is changing.
Once perceived as a floating playground for retirees, yachts are now often owned by an increasingly younger demographic. Within the next 20 years, the average age of superyacht owners is expected to be 35-45, according to the International University of Monaco. These owners don’t want art deco and likely won’t want reflections of the French Riviera in the 1960s.
Galleries around the world are reporting a sales uptick in the work of living artists who incorporate modern technology and mixed media. Gagosian Galley, the No. 1 “mega gallery,” with 17 global locations, represents more than 100 artists, 75% of whom are still living and actively creating new art. These living artists are very attractive to younger art buyers. Artists often create cultural commentary, and younger buyers want relatable pieces.
Art pieces that reflect movement are also trending. Fixed sculptures found on classically designed vessels are giving way to art that can flow with the motion of the boat itself or reflect the changing light as the boat moves through time. Chris Natrop, an LA-based artist who specializes in custom shapes of mixed media that reflect the movement of light, says he has seen an increase in commissions for large installation pieces that create reflection. The traditional setting of yachts, once viewed as an extension of corporate accomplishments, is yielding to these reflective materials that bounce light and personal energy around a space, bringing unique character to any room.
Cyia Batten, an interior stylist who grew up on boats, says, “Yacht owners are the type of client who make their own rules, who are unafraid to take risks, and for whom authentic expression is a non-negotiable.” Batten travels frequently on behalf of her clients, always keeping her eyes open for art that is “deeply complex and interesting; no two projects should ever look alike. It makes for a fun exploration and adventure together.”
Marlen Lugo, a Tennessee-based artist, finds that her collectors are very interested in art that reflects global awareness and associations. Her latest body of work, inspired by an imaginary place called “The Republic of Wonder,” morphs physical human body attributes into culturally defined characters whose aspirations, nevertheless, are interchangeable with other members of the Republic. As world travelers, yacht owners want to be reminded of the baker and fisherman they met on the other side of the globe. Pieces that tell personal stories are more popular than ever, and owners who want to display unique program destinations will be drawn to Lugo’s work.
Art isn’t just attached to the walls — sometimes, it is the wall, as with artist Tony Brown’s one-of-a-kind collage landscapes. Brown gets to know his client’s style, and combs through unique materials to sculpt transitions, such as doors, walls, and outside borders. These unique pieces allow a collector to change themes throughout a space, offering surprise design elements. Brown is well known for upcycling materials found during a renovation and transforming them into a new experience. This style is particularly interesting for a refit phase, as Brown’s keen eye for pieces that can be repurposed into art allows for unique designs that tell the story of a vessel’s history.
Everything an owner or guest interacts with on board is an opportunity for personalized design: lighting, slipcovers, table settings — all can be used to create a unique artistic expression. Owners who spend a lot of time in Africa, for example, may want to showcase handmade pieces sourced from global importers like NYC-based Victoria Akkari. Originally a jewelry designer, Akkari sources small production pieces such as hand-stitched table linens and traditional, hand-forged ceramic trays. Her clients trust her to find pieces that tell stories of art as anthropology. These kind of design choices can breathe new life into the conversations of guests who sit at the same table each night.
Next time you walk through a vessel, notice if you are tuning into or tuning out the look of everything around you. If your interiors are no longer inspiring, it might be time for an art refit.