'Try before you buy' art comes to US
- 4 April 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Getting into the world of art collecting can be a difficult business if you're a beginner. But a new website in the US is offering would-be collectors the chance to "try before you buy" and rent the art first.
Buying art can be a frustrating experience if you're new to it. There may be lots of shops and websites where you can buy mass-produced prints, but what about original art?
It can involve a lot of leg-work, requiring trips to multiple galleries and trawling art websites.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for the prospective buyer is being taken seriously if you've not already been priced out of the market.
Twenty-four-year-old New Yorker Alexis Tryon had just that problem.
Two years ago she went to a gallery armed with her chequebook ready to buy a piece of artwork she had researched and could afford. All she wanted to do was see it for herself.
"They wanted me to come back and the only appointments available were on Tuesday afternoons," Tryon says.
"I thought this is absurd - I have a job so I can't come in on a Tuesday afternoon and I'm trying to give you $1,000 (£623).
"I just couldn't get taken seriously as a young professional by galleries, and friends were having the same sort of challenges."
As a result of that experience, she started online company Artsicle with friend Scott Carleton offering accessible, affordable, original art.
Fear of art
For $50 (£31) a month, art lovers can choose a painting, sculpture or print they like from the collections of 30 emerging and more established artists, hang it in their homes and decide whether they like it or not.
If they do, they can purchase the art - where prices range from $500 to $5,000 (£311 to £3,100). If they don't, they can send it back or rent another one.
Artsicle also aims to address the fear of buying art online. How do you know what it will look like in your home?
"It's the idea of letting collectors live with the art for a while and have time to decide whether its something they really love and want to invest in and live with for a significant amount of time," says Tryon.
As well as challenges facing the novice art collector, emerging artists are also met with struggles when they first start out too.
Selling their art or gaining gallery endorsement can be difficult because galleries are reluctant to take risks or show work by less established artists.
Tryon, who has an art history background and some curatorial experience under her belt, hand-picks artists featured on the site.
"I see emerging artists having this incredibly long period from when they finish their education to when they make their break, if they ever do," she says.
"We lose a lot of them to other careers because they can't afford to keep on making art. I don't know if I can eliminate the struggle, but I hope we can ease it a bit and get them exposure earlier in their careers."
Artist Joana Ricou, who moved from her native Portugal to the US in 2000 and now lives in New York, signed up to raise her profile and gain more exposure in a competitive industry.
"I was looking for a group to become affiliated with," she says. "I've actually let people who I worked with or knew personally keep my pieces for three weeks before, and it worked pretty well."
Established artist Alexander Motyl, who already has the backing of a gallery in Philadelphia, is also on board after meeting Tryon at an art show.
"I think the idea of leasing art is brilliant," he says "Most art collectors have some doubts about whether a piece is exactly right.
"Leasing permits them to address those doubts in a manner that is also respectful of the artist."
Artsicle breaks the format of the traditional gallery experience, which is typically seen as only available to an exclusive clientele.
Gregor Muir, executive director of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, says there are reasons why the average person may encounter hurdles if they want to purchase from a high-level gallery.
"What galleries want is to create a strong, healthy and resilient market for the artist, so it's not possible in many cases to just walk into a gallery and buy something," he says.
"It is in the best interest of the artist and their career that their works are placed with the best person possible, and that's to do with the artist's and gallery's reputation.
"Artsicle is a levelling blade - it's not got that sense of having to go somewhere to find the artwork. The thrill of the chase is not here."
Tryon says she wants to create a new class of art collectors and change attitudes towards accessibility and transparency.
"In the typical gallery there are no posted prices and you have to request a price sheet," she says.
"We're very proud our prices are on the website and they're the same whether you're in your pyjamas on your couch or wearing expensive stilettos - they're the same for everyone.
"Without the need to 'chase' artwork, we believe more individuals will be drawn to collecting art."
While Muir praises Artsicle's innovation, he questions how it can help young artists and prove a valuable experience for them.
"The emerging artists who feel more confident may not wish for their work to be seen in such accessible terms," he says.
"Should they become successful, then we'd expect their appearance on this website to be fleeting because the first thing their gallery is going to ask them to do is not exhibit there any more."
But Tryon says: "We don't see ourselves as a landing place for these artists - I hope they grow on.
"If one of our artists gains recognition and is able to join the roster of a high-quality gallery, I would be thrilled - even if that means no longer selling with us."
Tryon says so far about 90% of customers are renting and 10% are buying the art immediately, with 20% of renters deciding to purchase the piece within the first month of living with it.
But she admits that as a lot of the artists on her books are young, she has no idea whether they could become the next Picasso or Damien Hirst.
She also urges customers to buy the art because they like it, not as a potential goldmine.
"If you love it as much in person when you get up in the morning the same way you did on the website, whether or not that artist's career goes anywhere or [the art] becomes a good investment probably won't matter very much to you.
"You'll get your utility out of it by truly living with it and loving it."