The sharing economy now reaches into the art world — with a startup that allows you to pick and rent serious artwork on a month-to-month basis.
ArtMgt, founded by Bushwick-based artist and technologist David Frey allows users to search its massive catalog of young but accomplished artists by several factors. Say you’re designing a room that has a blue color scheme and you need a piece that incorporates blue and fits into a space. With ArtMgt, you can put in the dimensions, pick the color, your price range and several other factors.
“I think we share some DNA with Rent The Runway, where we’re making something that’s a little out of reach more widely available,” Frey said over a beer one recent night at No Name Bar in Greenpoint. “People’s sense of ownership now is different than it used to be. You don’t really want to own everything forever.”
The prices start at $50 per month and many of them, especially the paintings and photos, stay under $100.
The service is perfect for vacation homes, where you’re only spending a few months of the year, and Frey has had customers in film and television, including one project in New Orleans with Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins, and a number of offices (in addition to regular apartments). If the customer likes the piece, they can also just buy it outright. Half the amount they’ve already paid in renting it will be credited toward the purchase price.
The pieces on ArtMgt are mostly by serious, young artists. Many of them have been shown in MoMA or PS1, but are not yet well-known names. The arrangement benefits the artists because they’re getting some monthly income on art that otherwise might be in storage or waiting for its next exhibition, Frey said. And money aside, if it’s rented it means it’s visible and people are enjoying it, which is a pretty central reason for making art in the first place.
“This is a hard part of the market to work in but it’s something which is really enjoyable,” Frey said. “It’s the very beginning of people’s careers, and that’s the opportunity that we present to people.”
ArtMgt is not the first to do art rentals by any means, but Frey is the first to make his catalog so searchable.
There is an established marketplace for corporate and hotel art rentals, but it typically goes at a lower price point. Other companies, like Artiscle, rent art in a similar category to ArtMgt, but its site has no search mechanism and you have to email for prices. The Financial Times recently covered “the growing industry of art leasing,” in which ArtMgt earned a salmon-colored shoutout.
Frey went to art school at Savannah College of Art and Design in the early 2000s, and for his thesis created a website where artists could share their work and pair it with an everyday object, like a toothbrush. His professors, he said, did not quite know what to make of it, but after some explanation they accepted that it was, in fact, art.
“It was not universally well-received,” Frey explained.
Since then he’s worked as an engineer for J.Crew, Columbia University and New York magazine. In 2006 he founded the popular art registry Culturehall, for which he curates four artists each month who are highlighted and given an online portfolio. Many of those artists now also appear on ArtMgt.
For now, ArtMgt is operating only in New York, where Frey races from Bushwick to Manhattan to his home in Long Island City with a 1992 Toyota 4Runner full of art. What he’s excited about, though, is that this is a scalable product. I asked him if he had dreams of taking it nationwide.
Frey, who is reserved by nature, took a long sip of beer and thought for a second.
“I see it serving a lot of markets. Everyone loves art,” he said, finally.
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