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Cruising into a sea of art

A steel tree floats above the atrium, a skeleton of LED branches below its base mirroring the conventional greenery above — Miami artist Bert Rodriguez’ nod to the ship’s name, Reflection. By the bar on the Silhouette, a pair of hummingbirds flit across a series of panels in a blur of kissing shapes in a Suara Welitoff video. On Eclipse, Damien Hirst prints butterfly images on bone china for a starburst effect that looks remarkably like an Aztec calendar or exploding sun.Such a wealth of contemporary art would be unusual in any resort. More surprising, perhaps, is to find it at sea.

Nearly all cruise ships today feature high-quality photography and glass works. Some go further, incorporating an array of masterful works that rival public collections. Oceania’s ships are filled with paintings by such Caribbean and Cuban masters as Manual Mendive and Wifredo Lam and dotted with signed Picasso prints. On Royal Caribbean’s massive Allure of the Seas, an installation of wire-and-bead “dresses” by Keysook Geum hangs above an elevator lobby. Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa II features works by young European artists along with that of such established stars as David Hockney, Gerhard Richter and Ólafur Elíasson.The five Celebrity Cruises ships known collectively as the “Solstice Class” incorporate close to 5,000 works on each ship to become floating museums. Works by heavyweights like Robert Indiana, Robert Rauschenberg and Anish Kapoor are mixed with creations by extraordinary mid-level and emerging artists – many from Miami – to become an integral part of the onboard experience. Together, the collections aboard Solstice, Equinox, Eclipse, Silhouette and Reflection are valued at $60 million.

“Celebrity Cruises understands the importance of design and beauty — which supports the casual elegance, sophistication and modern feel of Celebrity,” says Joan Blackman, partner in Coral Gables-based International Corporate Art, which curates art aboard Celebrity’s ships. “Art has always played a very important role in this respect.”

The line’s art legacy began with the Greek shipping family, Chandris, which founded Celebrity Cruises. When the company merged with Miami-based Royal Caribbean in 1997, an important and sizable contemporary art collection curated by Christina Chandris came with the ships. Celebrity has continued to expand the collection, and what passengers see today on board is a mix of works previously acquired by Chandris and ones newly acquired or commissioned by Celebrity and ICArt.

In the five-ship Solstice class, the vessels’ names inspired the collections, says Mariangela Capuzzo, ICArt’s curatorial director. “On Reflection, the whole collection had to do with external reflections and internal contemplation. Eclipse is all about the rare and unexpected. Equinox had to do with balance, the ying and yang. On Silhouette, the art program explores the development of line, shadow and form. Solstice features plays on sun and light.”

The signature on each of Celebrity’s five Solstice ships is the Ensemble Vestibule, a large foyer featuring a commissioned installation. No ice cream counter (that’s around the corner) or cocktail bar (that’s down the corridor as guests move toward a selection of specialty restaurants where the cuisine vies with the best of South Beach). This is simply a space for art. For Solstice, Colombian-American Nancy Friedemann incorporated lace, flowers and a “traveling” string of ants on a black background that extends to walls, ceilings and floor as she explores the tension of living between cultures. For Eclipse, Daniel Arsham, who grew up in Miami, has covered the vestibule walls with erosion sculptures that speak to the concepts of natural and human-made forms. On Equinox, Cuban American sculptor / designer Jorge Pardo affixed reflective, flower-like lights to walls, inviting passersby to reflect on beauty. Miamian Carlos Betancourt collaborated with Alberto Latorre to create a mystical, romantic space of flowers and classical imagery for Reflection that is dramatically different from Julie Heffernan’s lush, painterly Eden aboard Silhouette.

Inquisitive guests can borrow an iPad loaded with background about the works and the artists, and wander on their own. On some sailings, an onboard artist from Lincoln Road’s ArtCenter South Florida offers a live tour. (She also teaches hands-on painting classes.)

But for even the most avid enthusiasts, cruising is about far more than gazing at art. On these 2,850-passenger ships, you can sip it at the Molecular Bar, where a Dragonfly martini froths with liquid nitro. You can taste it at Qsine, where guests order from a whimsical iPad menu and dine on sushi lollipops. Or you can simply enjoy it as you stroll from the oversized wingback chairs in the atrium library to gangway, where a salty breeze and the next port awaits.

Celebrity Cruises sail weekly from Miami and ports around the globe.