The Art of Piracy

On the high seas, it may be best to resist the urge to buy a masterpiece.

In auction catalogs issued by Park West Gallery, which runs the auctions on several major cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, works are described as "giclée in color on canvas" or "embellished giclée in color on woven paper."

To the untrained eye, a giclée can resemble an original painting.

Technology is advancing the process every day — so much so that Bamberger is having to look harder to discern it. "I'm going to have to upgrade my pocket microscope from 30 power to 100," he says, "because these printers are getting so good."

Alvaro Diaz-Rubio
Alvaro Diaz-Rubio

For about a decade, the major cruise lines — Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Norwegian — have been selling fine art onboard. On a recent trip, her seven-day honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean, Fort Lauderdale legal assistant Debbie Priebe says she was constantly hearing announcements and reminders about art auctions.

"We didn't go into the auction because we could tell it was high-pressure sales, and we weren't going to buy anything," she says. "Most of the art was pretty expensive. They were advertising that they had one-of-a-kind pictures and originals."

Fernan says it's more likely that the only thing on the cruise both real and French was the wine.

After Kifer and Sexton got back from their disastrous Mediterranean sail, they hired an expert to compare the Tranquil Remorse they had bought, the one they had just seen sold, and the one that appeared in Manoukian's book.

Each was slightly different. The expert concluded that their painting was one in a series of "oil reproductions where the artist cleverly tries to represent each version of the Tranquil Remorse as an original."

"We thought we were getting authentic art — we thought they had everything in order — the certificates of authenticity and appraisals," Sexton says. "The auctioneers said there was nothing they could do because they relied on the cruise line for the marketing information."

Bamberger says there's nothing stopping an artist from painting the same thing over and over. "It has to do with the integrity of the artist," he says. "I don't know what it says to the legal world. There are no rules against painting the same thing again and again."

Kifer and Sexton showed their expert's findings to Princess, and the cruise line offered to buy back their Tranquil Remorse for what they paid. But that wasn't good enough for the retired Delaware duo.

They filed suit this August against Princess, Bronson, and Manoukian in Broward County's state court.

"Our appraiser told us: 'You ladies have been raped,'" Kifer says. "He told us we needed to call the police."

"We never want anyone to be put in the position that we were put in," Sexton says. "This is not a cheap piece — $71,000 something — but the piece should never have been sold again."

Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson declined to comment about the suit, citing company policy against discussing pending litigation. Benson also refused to discuss anything about the art program. Manoukian couldn't be reached for comment.

This isn't the first time the cruise line has faced legal action over its art program.

Two artists sued the cruise line earlier this year after finding out that thousands of Princess passengers bought unauthorized prints the cruise line had bought in bulk from Kristine Eubanks, a convicted felon.

California artist Charlene Mitchell, who is known for her landscapes, nature scenes, portraits, and animal-in-action scenes, found out about Eubanks' fakes after a passenger who'd bought one of the phonies — complete with her forged signature — contacted her to commission a portrait of his fiancée because he liked the print so much.

Mitchell couldn't believe so many forged copies of her work had been sold. "I certainly didn't sign 1,100 prints," she says.

She sued both Eubanks and Princess in January, eventually attracting the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had also begun looking into Eubanks after being contacted by one of Eubanks' former employees. In September, the FBI made its investigation into Eubanks' dealings public and called on victims to come forward. Mitchell says she's the FBI's star witness.

San Francisco lawyer Brooke Oliver, outside counsel to Princess, won't comment on the federal investigation, though she denied that FBI agents reviewed any of Princess' records.

And Oliver says Princess is a victim.

"I'm surprised that Ms. Mitchell is going after Princess," Oliver says. "It's disappointing. Princess has been victimized by the folks who created the unauthorized copies."

Had Princess checked into Eubanks' background, however, the cruise line would have seen that she was on probation after an arrest on charges of forgery, fraud, and grand theft. She was convicted in June 2005 in Los Angeles and given three years' probation. According to court documents, Eubanks used her dead business partner's American Express to run up more than $100,000.

But the cruise line had no reason to learn any of that, Oliver claims. "Princess doesn't have any obligation to do due diligence," she tells New Times. And she adds that the sales of unauthorized copies of Mitchell's works actually benefit Mitchell by giving her a wider audience.

Mitchell disagrees and has sued Princess for copyright infringement, fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, conversion, and unjust enrichment. That case is still pending in California.

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If you've ever been to the Broken Shaker, you already know Orta and his team do not make ordinary cocktails. With an apothecary-style assortment of bitters, juices, and herbs, you never know what you might be served. As cocktail culture continues to spread across the country, it only makes sense cruise lines, hotels and resorts are striving to up their beverage game with programs like Norwegian's.