Floating Art for Rich Rubes

Are you worth a few million bucks? Do you live near the ocean in a large and

ostentatious house with a lot of walls? Do you not know much about art but you

know what you like? Then welcome aboard the Grande Luxe!

Alexandra Wolfe introduces

us to the Grande Luxe, and its owner, David Lester,

in the September issue of Portfolio. It’s a 228-foot yacht with 28 different

gallery spaces, each of them rented out to a second-tier gallery that most art

world sophisticates would never step into.

Anyone who wants to visit SeaFair has to apply online and answer questions

about his or her collection. But most of the art-related questions are merely

a formality, Lester admits. “Their collection doesn’t really matter,”

he says. “Preference goes to the person with the most money.”

If anything, I suspect that serious collectors are precisely the people Lester

doesn’t want. If you own a Tuymans or a Kippenberger or a Mehretu, SeaFair,

as his peripatetic floating art fair has been named, is not for you. Rather,

the idea is to take the stratospheric valuations of those art-world stars, and

use them to justify ridiculously high prices for artists who will never find

themselves in an evening sale at Sotheby’s. The target audience, not to put

too fine a point on it, is rich rubes, not the art-world insiders who flock

to Art Basel and other international fairs.

Can the seven- and eight-figure price tags from Art Basel trickle down into

big profits from SeaFair? I’m not sure. On the one hand, one can never underestimate

the amount of money that rich people are willing to spend on just about anything.

On the other hand, these are people who would never dream of spending more money

on paintings than they did on buying their house in the first place.

Can the small galleries on the yacht make a steady profit selling paintings

in the $10,000 to $40,000 range? Apparently they’re paying about $80,000 a month

in rent, which means they’re going to have to move quite a lot of product in

order to make a profit. But just think about all those empty walls in those

brand-new McMansions. They’re crying out for art, and SeaFair’s exhibitors

will bring it straight to your door. How easy is that?

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