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Affordable Art, At Long Last

Affordable Art, At Long Last

By Sonali Kokra


Because appreciating fine art shouldn’t require going to a museum or winning the lottery.

By Sonali Kokra

Pablo Picasso famously proclaimed, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Fair enough. But what happens when soul-cleansing comes at a price so staggering the average person would have to sell vital organs to afford it? In 2010, Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for a whopping $106 million — the highest price ever paid for a work of art. The same year, Christie’s, a leading auction house, sold S.H. Raza’s The Saurashtra for $3.5 million, setting a new record for a painting by an Indian artist.

Just what is an art lover to do if she falls hopelessly in love with a painting that is hopelessly out of her price range?

Colorful portrait of a triptych of couple,  Marionelle, oil on canvas

Affordable Art, At Long Last

Source Mirdul Chandra

Voila! The Art Renter, a company started in India in 2011 by Narayan Gopalan and P.D. Ganapathy.

When asked, as they often are, why someone should rent a piece of art rather than buy something she could afford, Gopalan responds, “Back in 2007–2008, investing in art was the hot and new thing. Auction houses predicted that the value of a carefully bought piece of art would increase three to five times within the next few years. But within a couple of years, instead of the value increasing to astronomical amounts, India’s art market folded, much like its economy — hurting both buyers and sellers. Fortunately, we finally seem to be coming out of that phase, with a revived interest in art — maybe not to invest in heavily like before, but at least to indulge in the love of it. So renting seemed like the perfect solution.”

The “love of it” is what The Art Renter is all about. “If you only want something that works with your furniture and wall color, we’re probably not the place for you. If that’s the case, you’re better off deciding on a budget and buying a piece that fits in it,” say the duo. “You have to love a piece and want it because it makes you feel something. Only then will you approach a place like The Art Renter to help you acquire it, if only for a short period.”

Younger artists love the idea because ultimately art is about appreciation — the more the people see it, the higher its value if it eventually gets sold.

The Art Renter has joined up with artists and Gallery Time and Space in Bangalore to create a catalog that showcases paintings, brass works, photographs and even lithographs by British painters from the 1800s, and it boasts names such as Mridul Chandra, Dhiren Sasmal, Prasanna Kumar and Amit Bhar.

But while the concept has immediate appeal for art lovers, the founders have encountered some resistance from artists. “The younger artists love the idea because ultimately art is about appreciation — the more the people see it, the higher its value if it eventually gets sold,” says Gopalan. “Established artists are cautious because they don’t want to dilute their brand value.”

For now, the company’s clientele consists primarily of organizations and institutions. “We supply art to many hotels in Bangalore. Some of them like to decorate certain rooms to complement the tastes of their long-stay guests. Some like to change their reception and lobby art frequently,” says Gopalan.

Painting of people on beach with large structure in background

Source Prasanna Kumar

The Art Renter also provides services such as art consultation, framing and mounting of artworks once they have been rented, as well as rental packages where customers can swap out items at regular intervals. Artworks can be rented for as little as one month or for longer than a year, and fees can cost as little as 10 percent of the work’s value per year.

With the art market finally starting to open up again, Gopalan and Ganapathy are looking to grow the company. “We’re in talks with galleries in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai for collaborations so we can increase our offering and reach a wider audience more conveniently. We’re also exploring the idea of art exchange with international galleries so that Indian talent gets exposure in the international market and vice versa. Ultimately, it’s all about fueling the love for art, wherever and however we can.” 

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