One of the biggest hurdles galleries have faced when selling work online is the reluctance of collectors to part with large sums of money before seeing a work IRL. Even on site, buyers can usually only guess what a work of art might look like on their wall.
Mio Asatani experienced this problem first hand when she moved to New York to study business and didn’t know how to furnish her apartment. “Art is a little more emotional or personal than buying clothes or electronics online,” she said. “I didn’t know where to start and galleries were just too expensive for me.”
In order to make art more accessible to those who felt unfamiliar with the art scene, she launched Curina in 2019. The platform not only offers the opportunity to buy art, but also to rent it for as little as $38 per month.
This fee increases with the purchase price of the artwork, however, any rent already paid will be deducted from the subsequent purchase price if a customer later decides to purchase it. Asatani and her team have identified two types of customers: those who “try before you buy” and those who treat rent more like a monthly installment plan.
“We’ve found that first-time clients who come to Curina rent the artworks first before buying them,” said Asatani, who primarily works with individuals. “The second time around, they usually buy without renting, so I think customers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of buying and owning art.”
The shock of the pandemic eventually accelerated Curina’s growth as more people stayed at home and online sales boomed. Commercial customers also showed an interest in enlivening workplaces with art. “They were afraid that downsizing the office would demotivate employees,” Asatani said.
Tazie Taysom of Artiq, a London-based agency that also offers art rentals, has noticed a similar trend among most of the company’s professional clients. “Since the pandemic, there’s been a real push towards representation, sustainability and localization,” she added. “Customers try to find stories that make sense to them and can be used as a talking point or visual cue.”
Several companies, she noted, were specifically looking for collections that amplify black voices, and another wanted to focus on artists with disabilities.
Businesses have typically viewed art acquisition as an investment opportunity, but when priorities change, the flexibility of renting has its own advantages. “You don’t get stuck on this asset register of artworks that doesn’t feel relevant anymore,” Taysom said.
And in the US, Asatani noted, rented artwork can be written off as an expense, giving companies some handy tax benefits.
Artists, especially independent artists, can also benefit tremendously from renting out their work. “A founding principle of the company was to provide artists with an opportunity to receive a regular wage,” Taysom said. “They can use it to plan and pay for the studio rental.”
Asatani added that this type of representation has other benefits for artists: “We value storytelling, conducting interviews and studio visits that try to convey the messages behind the artworks.”
Art rental options are becoming increasingly popular. Artnet News spoke to three companies to break down some of the different services on offer.
When were you founded? 2019, just before the pandemic.
What rental plans do you offer? There are three plans depending on the price and size of the artwork, ranging from $38 per month to $88 or $148 on the higher end. If a client decides to purchase a work, the rent previously paid will be deducted from the purchase price.
Who is your typical customer? Since 2021, mostly private individuals with a growing number of commercial customers.
How do you find artists and connect them with clients? Through multi-gallery partnerships and dedicated curators’ efforts to discover new artists. Customers are invited to browse online with a style quiz that offers recommendations based on the user’s selection of artwork.
What are some focal points for the business? Better representation. For example, female artists still make up significantly less than half of those associated with commercial galleries, but they make up 70 percent of Curina’s list.
Has your rental model translated into sales? Yes, 60 percent of tenants continue to buy.
When were you founded? 2009, just after the 2008 financial crisis.
What rental plans do you offer? A bespoke service for each client, designed to be flexible and scalable based on budget and needs.
Who is your typical customer? Overwhelmingly commercial, offering collections primarily for workplaces and hospitality establishments. The company is currently active in 20 countries and therefore has a very diverse customer base.
How do you find artists and connect them with clients? Dedicated researchers and curators build relationships with artists and find new ones through events and social media. Artists are proposed to customers according to their specific needs.
What are some focal points for the business? Improving representation and sustainability by collaborating with local artists.
Has your rental model translated into sales? In most cases, one or two artworks from each rental cycle are acquired permanently.
When were you founded? October 2021.
What rental plans do you offer? There are three plans, depending on the price of the work: £20 ($24) per month for work in the £1,000-£4,999 ($1,200-$5,999) range, £35 ($42) per month for work ranging from £5,000 to £9,999 ($6,000). -$11,999) and £50 ($60) per month for work between £10,000 and £15,000 ($12,000 to $18,000).
Who is your typical customer? Mainly private clients from London who had an established interest in art.
How do you find artists and connect them with clients? Co-founders Tom Cole and Will Jarvis are gallery owners so had an established network of artists and also received applications from independent artists.
What are some focal points for the business? Gertrude has recently launched a new business model aimed at helping independent artists develop their careers, with art rental being just one solution alongside sales, exhibitions and career advice. Artists are invited to become paying Gertrude members to gain access to these services.
Has your rental model translated into sales? Yes, so far with a rate of 15 percent.
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