Try before you buy
Internet-based business that lends art to would-be buyers proves a hit
By Melanie Gerlis. Art Market, Issue 245, April 2013
Published online: 08 April 2013
For would-be art buyers who are not sure what they want on their walls, Nahema Mehta has the answer: rent a work first. She founded her company, Art Remba, last year and is so far finding there’s an appetite both for renting art temporarily and as a “try before you buy” experiment. “There are so many culturally minded people in Manhattan who have beautiful apartments with great furniture and either a cheap print or nothing on their walls because they are intimidated by the art market,” she says.
Art Remba is one of the latest online businesses trying to entice the cash-rich but time-poor younger buyers into the market. Works are sourced from commercial galleries that specialise in international, emerging art (including Aicon, Leila Heller and the PX Photography gallery in New York). Many of the pieces are from stock, but not on display. “Most exhibitions have around 20 works on view with hundreds of pieces in the basement below,” says Mehta.
The value of the works available is low (in art market terms), going up to $150,000 (approximately $800 per month) with a “sweet spot” level around $20,000 (approximately $250 per month), she says. There is also an option to buy the work, with half the rental fee going towards this, that Mehta says around 20% of her clients have taken up.
Galleries are consistently trying to target her client base of “people who have professionally hit their stride, are in their 30s, are ready to collect but are busy and difficult to reach,” she says. She has around 30 such people on her books.
However, galleries don’t want to offer the service themselves, says Mehta, as it involves a “hand-holding exercise” that they don’t need to do. Art Remba vets its members (who join for free) and offers activities such as an artist-led tour at last month’s Armory Show in New York. In general, Art Remba shares around half the rental fee with the gallery, taking a smaller cut should the work sell.
The idea of renting art is not completely new, and systems have been in place for a long time (auction houses and commercial galleries often lend works to their preferred clients who might want to see how something looks in their homes first). Some museums such as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Canada offer something similar for works that haven’t made it into the museum’s galleries. There are also other online companies which offer art to rent, such as Artsicle (launched in 2011).
Mehta is aware of concerns that renting a work could tarnish its reputation in the somewhat haughty art market. “I hope to bring a new demographic into the art world by capturing their imaginations in a way that they understand. There’s no reason why investors can’t become collectors.”
CORRECTION: This article was updated on 9 April to reflect the following correction: The Art Rental and Sales programme at the Art Gallery of Ontario offers works by both emerging and established, gallery-represented artists, not just emerging artists, as we mistakenly reported.
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