One of the biggest hurdles galleries have had to overcome when selling work online is collectors’ hesitance to part with large sums of cash before seeing a work IRL. Even in person, buyers can usually only guess at how an artwork might look on their wall.
Mio Asatani experienced this problem first hand when, moving to New York to study business, she found herself at a loss for how to decorate her apartment. “Art is a little more emotional or personal compared to buying clothing or electronics online,” she said. “I didn’t know where to start and galleries were just too out of budget for me.”
Setting out to make art more accessible to those who felt unfamiliar with the art scene, she launched Curina in 2019. The platform offers not only the option to buy art, but also to rent it for as little as $38 per month.
This fee rises according to the purchase price of the artwork, but any rent already paid is deducted from the eventual purchase price if a client later decides to acquire it. Asatani and her team have noticed two types of clients: those that want to “try before you buy,” and those that treat the rent more like a monthly installment payment plan.
“We noticed that when clients first come to Curina, they start by renting before buying the artwork,” said Asatani, who works predominantly with individuals. “The second time, they usually buy without renting, so I think clients are getting more used to the idea of buying and owning art.”
The shock of the pandemic ended up accelerating Curina’s growth, as more people stayed at home and online sales boomed. Commercial clients also showed an interest in using art to liven up workspaces. “They were afraid that if they’re going to decrease the size of the office, it’s going to demotivate the employees,” Asatani said.
Tazie Taysom of Artiq, a London-based agency also offering art rentals, has noticed a similar trend among the company’s majority commercial clients. “Since the pandemic, there’s a real push towards representation, sustainability, and keeping things local,” she added. “Clients are trying to find stories that make sense for them and can be used as a talking point or visual cue.”
Several firms, she noted, specifically sought out collections amplifying Black voices and another wanted to focus on artists with disabilities.
Businesses have typically seen acquiring art as an investment opportunity, but as priorities change, the flexibility of renting has its own advantages. “You’re not stuck with this asset register of artwork that no longer feels relevant,” Taysom said.
And in the U.S., Asatani noted, rented artwork can be written off as an expense, so it offers businesses some handy tax benefits.
Artists, specifically independent artists, also stand to benefit hugely from renting out their work. “A founding principle of the business was to give artists the opportunity to have a regular wage,” Taysom said. “That allows them to plan and pay studio rent.”
Asatani added that there are other benefits for artists with this kind of representation: “We place an emphasis on storytelling by doing interviews and studio visits that try to convey the messages behind the artworks.”
Rental options for art are fast growing in popularity. Artnet News spoke to three businesses to break down some of the different services on offer.
When were you founded? 2019, shortly before the pandemic.
What rental plans do you offer? There are three plans determined by 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 acquire a work, the rent paid so far is deducted from the purchase price.
Who is your typical client? Majority private individuals with a growing number of commercial clients since 2021.
How do you find artists and match them with clients? Through partnerships with several galleries and the efforts of dedicated curators to discover new artists. Clients are invited to browse online with a style quiz offering recommendations based on the user’s selection of artworks.
What are some core focuses for the business? Better representation. For example, women artists still account for considerably less than half of those associated with commercial galleries, but they make up 70 percent of Curina’s roster.
Has your rental model translated into sales? Yes, 60 percent of renters go on to buy.
When were you founded? 2009, shortly after the financial crisis of 2008.
What rental plans do you offer? A bespoke service for each client that is intended to be flexible and scalable according to their budget and needs.
Who is your typical client? Overwhelmingly commercial, providing collections predominantly for workplaces and hospitality venues. The business has operated in 20 countries so far, so has a highly varied client base.
How do you find artists and match them with clients? Dedicated researchers and curators build relationships with the artists and find new ones through events and social media. Artists are suggested to clients according to their specific requirements.
What are some core focuses for the business? Improving representation, as well as sustainability achieved through working with local artists.
Has your rental model translated into sales? In most cases, one or two artworks from each rental cycle are permanently acquired.
When were you founded? October 2021.
What rental plans do you offer? There are three plans determined by the price of the work: £20 ($24) per month for works ranging £1,000–£4,999 ($1,200–$5,999), £35 ($42) per month for works ranging £5,000–£9,999 ($6,000–$11,999) and £50 ($60) per month for works ranging £10,000–£15,000 ($12,000–$18,000).
Who is your typical client? Mostly London-based private clients who had an existing interest in art.
How do you find artists and match them with clients? Co-founders Tom Cole and Will Jarvis are gallerists so had an existing network of artists and have also been receiving applications from independent artists.
What are some core focuses for the business? Gertrude has recently launched a new business model aimed at helping independent artists to develop their careers, with art rentals just one solution offered alongside sales, exhibitions and career mentorship. Artists are invited to become paying members of Gertrude in order to access these services.
Has your rental model translated into sales? Yes, at a rate of 15 percent so far.