Q&A: We Chat with Art Curator Mariangela Capuzzo About Why Art Matters on Silversea’s Cruise Ships

For 16 years, Mariangela Capuzzo has collaborated with cruise lines, finding just the right artworks to convey and enhance the sensibility of each ship, both new builds and refurbishments. More than 25 vessels bear witness to her expertise. The latest is Silversea’s Silver Nova.

The job goes beyond what you might expect. She and her team from International Corporate Art, or ICArt, continually visit art fairs and artist studios around the globe to stay abreast of artistic work that might mesh with future projects. The company, based in Miami, Oslo, Norway, and Madrid, consults closely with cruise line executives after the ships’ architects and interior designers have shaped each public space. At that point, they understand how to curate the art, such as the ceiling mural by Artur Sula (pictured above; you’ll find it in Silver Nova’s library).

Engineering is part of the equation; each artwork must withstand the vibrations and movement inherent to the marine environment.

But her team doesn’t simply find works and place them. Nearly all of the artworks aboard Silver Nova have been commissioned for specific locations. That requires intimate familiarity with each artist’s capabilities and practice. It means ongoing and close communication as the works progress, especially when nearly all communication is digital. When a project appears to be going sideways, it means jumping on a plane to get it back on track.

‘We’re telling a story; we’re not just putting up something that looks good.’

Mariangela Capuzzo, chief creative officer, ICArt

Aiding the process is the team’s international nature. Capuzzo, chief creative officer, consults closely with Silversea’s leadership, the artists and her curatorial team, which includes Madrid-based Marta Valea Castellote. Oslo-based Johanne Sofie Amtedal and Frederik Caspar Holst serve as art consultants.

In a question-and-answer session, Capuzzo and I discussed the hundreds of artworks on board Silver Nova, the international artists commissioned to create them and how the works enhance the travel experience.

Question: Why does it matter that a ship like Silver Nova has art on board versus just having attractive decoration?

“Yoruba Crown,” by Delphine Diallo

Mariangela Capuzzo: Art adds to the level of meaning of the experience of being on board. It captures people’s intellect and imagination. Our job is to create a visual aesthetic impact that sparks curiosity when it comes to the medium and that lives well and supports the narrative of the ship. I think it’s an added value for the guests on board.

We’re telling a story; we’re not just putting up something that looks good. You can really understand the artist and their intention. We have signage that accompanies all of this so people can better understand the work.

Q: Art sparks our interest. It moves us. We live in a society that is moved by beauty. How does the process start?

Mara Fabbro’s work hangs in the Atlantide restaurant on Silver Nova.

Capuzzo: The narrative we tell with the art is inspired by the name of the ship, in this case Silver Nova.

Our curatorial direction is to “shine a light” on a new way of sensing, a new way of being, a new way of discovering. The art program on Silver Nova brings together an international art collection that sparks curiosity…a visual journey, exploring the new and the next. It’s about exploring the cultures of the world, exploring destinations.

It’s creating that sense of discovery, that sense of wanting to know more, of wanting to engage with and explore the new and the next. We want to create this experience from different perspectives.

Then the next thing is connecting with the spaces on the ship. We start with the stairs because it’s where you really have a museum-like experience that’s unexpected. You have a very captive audience, and it creates an opportunity for the art to shine.

In Silver Nova’s two stairwells, we explore cultures expressed through medium and color, inspired by the elements. The Forward stairs embody Earth and fire, while the Aft stairs focus on water and air. The commissioned works of 11 international artists are included here.

Every single space on board the ship is important. This ship is small, and guests on board are going to enjoy the entire ship. Every space is an opportunity to create an independent bespoke experience.

It’s all an opportunity for questioning: What is this? What am I looking at? The key is not just to present the obvious. We strive to make sure the artists we select have a very distinct personality and bring artwork that is out of the ordinary.

Q: A lot of work these days is intended to challenge the viewer. But it would seem to me that on a ship, you want to entice people. Is that right?

Capuzzo: The art on board is about curiosity, and it’s about beauty. The work on Silver Nova is very process oriented. The material is very important, whether it’s a ceramic or a textile or paper.

Ceramics, by Ana Rod

The pieces involve cultural traditions that are repackaged into something new, something unique. We selected artists who are emerging and established, but they are all experienced in their practice and dedicated to this process-oriented process. You feel the hand; you feel the artist coming in.

It’s not just about the experiences seeing pieces. It is about engaging the guests and creating that opportunity for curiosity, for someone to say, “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful. How did they do that? Who is the artist? What is the meaning behind this” That’s the type of experience that we’re trying to bring.

We’re really interested in sparking that curiosity and telling stories about cultures.

Q: I always imagined that you and your team find artworks and fit them into specific places on board, much like people do in their homes. But that’s not really how it works, is it?

Capuzzo: Placing artwork on board ships is very complex. Some works will be open to the elements, so you have to take that into consideration. All works must be marine compliant so they withstand vibration and motion. You want to create an experience for guests on board.

Francesco Messina, “Scoula di Danza” bronze.

But there’s another level that’s really important. We create the opportunity for artists to take their practice to the next level. We work with them to do things they haven’t done before. About 99 percent of the work on board is commissioned to be site-specific.

Q: How long does a project like this take?

Capuzzo: Usually we take two years. But with the pandemic and other factors, we did this in one year. We did everything remotely. There is a lot of hand holding, a lot of phone calls. We didn’t see the artworks in person until the installation.

Q: What distinguishes Silver Nova from other ships you’ve worked on?

Capuzzo: Everybody’s trying to create all these very contemporary collections in public spaces. One of the things that I love about the Silver Nova art collection is that we used a collection of 38 bronzes in the classic 20th century Novecento style by Italian sculptor Francesco Messina. The juxtaposition of the bronzes with the very process-based contemporary artwork we’ve placed around the ship is very beautiful. It creates the yin and the yang.