the habits of the ultra-rich

Rich People Keep Destroying Their Art With Champagne Corks and Cereal

Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Pobytov/Getty Images

Probably the most annoying thing about owning a superyacht is how you’re very likely to lose money on resale — the market is trash, it’s just garbage. Probably the third-most annoying thing is how you constantly have to make sure the infinity pool is clean, and that the helipad is seagull-free. Ugh. But definitely, definitely, the second-most annoying thing about owning a superyacht, if I had to pick? It’s keeping Champagne corks from flying into and destroying all of the multi-million-dollar paintings on display in there. It’s like a 24-hour job!

Luckily, there’s someone who can help. Pandora Mather-Lees is an Oxford-educated art historian and conservator who has taken it upon herself to teach the world’s ultra-rich how to keep themselves, their yacht guests, their yacht crew, and their children, from destroying the art they keep on their yachts. (Some who have “better collections than some national museums,” Mather-Lees says.)

According to The Guardian, Mather-Lees offers a €295-a-day course to help billionaires and their crew understand the “intrinsic value of the objects on board” and how to find a specialist to help in an emergency. The idea came to her after she was approached to help restore a ruined Basquiat (that had sold at auction for $110.5 million in 2017) after a billionaire’s child had destroyed it with cornflakes.

“His kids had thrown their cornflakes at it over breakfast on his yacht because they thought it was scary,” Mather-Lees told The Guardian. Apparently the crew made matters worse by wiping the painting down, unaware of its purchase price. In another incident, a popped Champagne cork struck the canvas of an (unnamed) multi-million-dollar painting. “D’oh!,” as Homer Simpson would say.

Mather-Lees points out that crew members are on board yachts to be crew members on a yacht, not to be art conservators. “But, now that the rich are increasingly bringing their art collections on board their yachts,” she said, “it’s vital that captains and crew know how to care for these pieces.”

Why are the rich increasingly bringing their art collections on board their yachts? According to Mather-Lees, from a talk she gave at a Superyacht Investor conference, it’s because the owners want to show off the art they have. Oh. I bet! And, she says, “it acts as an icebreaker, and says volumes about their taste.” I bet!

Plus, she told the Guardian, “yachts can be very controllable. Systems for temperature and humidity can surpass those you would find in galleries.” I’d still rather keep my $110.5 million Basquiat on land but, I suppose, it takes all kinds.

The piece goes on to talk about various billionaires who altered paintings that could not fit into their yachts — one who turned a Rothko 90 degrees so it could fit; one who cut a Takashi Murakami so it could be displayed in the part of his superyacht where he keeps the jet skis — and I invite you to read it at your own peril.

However, please, if you take away one thing from this, let it be: the resale value of superyachts can be as low as 40 to 50-percent of the initial cost. Please take this into consideration (plus the amount you’re willing to spend on upkeep [10 percent of a yacht’s initial purchase price per year]) before deciding which is the right superyacht for you. You won’t regret it!

Rich People Keep Destroying Their Art With Champagne Corks