One of the staple activities aboard nearly all cruise ships on those days when they are "at sea" as they put it (aren't we all), is the obligatory art auction. As art goes, one might say they're nice places to visit but you wouldn't want to actually BUY anything there. But, the work does help spruce up the public areas of the ship, they are pretty to look at, and they do help pass the time between lazing in the sun and slumping over the bar. One can also get a certain smattering of art appreciation in studying them, comparing the various print offerings, and watching in amusement as your monied fellow passengers pay way too much for way too little. One can also get a feel for who's in and who's out, and the slightly more cultivated tastes of those art lovers with a bit more daring than your average Joe or Joan at your average hometown art fair.
There are the old masters of course, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Rockwell--names that still bring good money because of their names. Then there are the names of up-and- coming artists few have ever heard of but, judging purely by their work, hold promise. I discovered a fondness for living, struggling names like Roberta Peck, Alain Ragaru, Helen Rundell, Nicola Simbari, and Victor Spahn, to cite just a few. Then there are those in between, living artists that don't quite qualify as old masters but yet have names that are instantly recognizable, such as Peter Max and Leroy Neiman. They're work seemed quite popular. I'm not sure if they're making a comeback or if they never really left the scene, but despite what I considered some rather outrageous reserve prices, they're work moved, while items I like much more came up and went back down with no bids.
Neiman and Max, of course, represent two different eras. Leroy Neiman was born in 1927, Max about 1940. Neiman is painterly, Max in graphic. Neiman came out of Minnesota via the Art Institute of Chicago. Max has a mystical, Jewish, oriental, New York birthright. Neiman graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1950 and immediately joined the faculty there, where he taught for several years before being rescued from obscurity in 1954 by fellow Chicagoan, Hugh Hefner, to become the favorite artist of playboys from all over the world. Given this pedigree, art people either love him or hate him. His trademark "abstract IMpressionist" style seems perfectly fitted to his penchant for sports-related and leisure time subject matter. His colors range from Matisse to Pollock to de Kooning. His style is a bit of all three. His work appears in museums as diverse as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, to Wadham College in Oxford, England. Is Neiman great art? Hard to say. He and Mr. Max are, of course still alive, so perhaps it's not a fair question. But if the cruise ship art auction market is any indication, it would seem safe to say they're both on their way to joining the Picasso-Matisse-Chagall-Rockwell echelon just as soon as the i's are dotted and the t's crossed in their obituaries.