By Tom Stieghorst
Increasingly, cruise ships are becoming galleries at sea.
In 2005, Denver artist Lawrence Argent crafted a 40-foot-tall blue bear out of fiberglass and posed it peering through the towering glass windows of the Colorado Convention Center.
"I saw it and I loved it," said Joan Blackman, an art consultant for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "And I said to myself, one day we're going to have the opportunity to have this onboard."
Nine years later, the company's Quantum of the Seas emerged from a shipyard in Germany with a 32-foot-tall bear, this one pink and made of stainless steel, affixed to the top deck.
"It became an identifier," Blackman said. "And it says a lot about Royal, because they've given you not only something to talk about but it's really kind of intrigued you and made you smile."
Art has always been a background element on a cruise, but increasingly it is stepping into the spotlight. Some lines are spending millions of dollars on art with each new ship.
Blackman, a co-founder and partner at International Corporate Art (ICArt) in Coral Gables, Fla., said the emphasis on art helps drive home the quality of the cruise experience and give cruise lines an extra surprise, a different experience and a conversation item to offer guests.
"They're trying to differentiate themselves, their brands, their ships and create something that is their [unique] characteristic," she said.
Strategies are as varied as the brands. At some lines, art reinforces a national identity that it cultivates or emphasizes heritage and tradition. Other lines want to appear contemporary.
And some are offering a curated art collection worthy of connoisseurs.
In general, art on cruise ships is becoming more three-dimensional, more interactive and more driven by technological possibilities than in the past, according to Blackman.