You wouldn't buy a $25,000 pair of shoes without trying them on, so why buy art that way? That's the logic behind the new San Francisco-based art-rental startup Artify It (artify.it, not to be confused with the Toronto-based Canadian art rental site Artify.ca), which aims to rent out original works to individuals and businesses on a month-to-month subscription basis — and as a further twist, to give subscribers a chance to become dealers themselves by selling the art off their walls.
The startup just received $800,000 in seed funding from a group of venture capital powerhouses including PayPal's founder Peter Thiel, the former director of Google Search products Benjamin Ling, and Phoenix-based investment group Quest Ventures. Artify It will launch its art-rental-cum-dealership to San Franciscans in mid-May.
The company was co-founded by Lorenzo Thione, an Italian-born entrepreneur who is probably best known for creating Powerset, a search startup that was sold to Microsoft in 2008 for roughly $100 million. According to Thione, Artify It, like many art-tech startups, is attempting to democratize the collecting process by taking some of the risk out of purchasing original artworks while at the same time easing them into the art world. Artify It will only work with artists in the area around their office (currently only in San Francisco, but coming soon to New York), but would-be subscribers from other locales can rent art as long as they are willing to pay a shipping premium.
"I think the specifics of what we are doing are pretty new," said Thione of allowing subscribers to both rent and deal art, adding that the focus on local San Francisco artists and clients will work to the Web-based company's advantage. "The real advantages come from a really interesting demographic. People are very used to the idea of taking advantage of the opportunities brought by new technology, and we have a more receptive pool of potential initial consumers."
Subscriptions will range from $50-150 per month, though the final figures still haven't been hammered out, and will depend on the artwork and the price-point chosen by the artist. By the time of launch, Artify It plans to have about 20-40 artists in their catalogue with 200-500 works to choose from. The company is targeting both private individuals and small businesses that want to spruce up their offices but have minimal budgets.
While most of this sounds like a natural extension of the art-democratization-via-the-Internet ethos of other art-tech companies ARTINFO has covered, the real novelty that Artify It will bring to the table — for better or for worse — is the "Artify It Scout" function, which essentially allows subscribers to become dealers. All the rented works are also up for sale, and if the subscriber can sell a painting off their own wall, Artify It will cut them in on a part of the commission.
This is a pretty scary proposition, considering the entire primary art marketplace is built on the assumption that you need to be a dealer with connections and access to asymmetrical information in order to sell art. But how hard can it be? Via Artify It, we'll soon see.