In 2012, after Shravani Vatti graduated from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, she began meeting artists instead of launching into a job search. The engineering student had developed an interest in art after an internship in her second year with a Bengaluru-based firm, where she was tasked with convincing artists worldwide to create paintings for charity.
With art on her mind, Vatti began noticing that pieces on the walls of restaurants and offices never changed. “I thought to myself that if these places could rent art works rather than buy them, then, with very little cost, they can keep changing the look and feel of their establishments without committing to one single art work,” she said.
Vatti, in her early 20s, started Ardizen in 2012 in Pune with the aim of renting or selling art to corporate establishments and bringing into focus the works of lesser-known Indian artists. Six years later, Vatti has created a separate branch of Ardizen called ArtEnthuse—an art rental programme for corporations, while Ardizen now focuses on selling. The model of renting paintings and photographs on a monthly basis seems to have found an audience, with companies such as Capgemini and Hitachi signing up for it. Several other organisations, such as ArtBuRt and Pix My Wall, offer similar services of renting artworks or photographs, which can also be bought if the client prefers.
As of now, Ardizen represents the works of 150 artists, nearly all of whom are young, unknown, and upcoming. “We love supporting those (artists) who are working hard to find their niche,” said Vatti. “This is the exact stage where they need a model like art rentals to sustain them till they are independent and have their revenues streamlined.”
Though Ardizen’s model finds takers now, initially Vatti had a hard time convincing artists to rent out their paintings. “I talked to them about (the) benefits of the renting model, such as assured regular income, more visibility of their works in public spaces rather than in the exhibitions that are few and far between, and slowly more and more artists were willing to try it out,” she said. “Artist Anil Soni was one of the first ones to come on board. However, in the art community, renting is seen negatively because it means they are not selling. While younger artists, such as Abhiram Bairu, Kumar Ranjan, and Gangadhar, are more enthusiastic, some senior artists still don’t like their names associated with rentals.”
When Vatti first visited Ranjan in his Faridabad studio five years ago, he found the concept a little odd. “We are used to having our artworks being borrowed by galleries, so giving my works for rent was something I had trouble wrapping my brain around initially,” said the 38-year-old artist. “However, as I thought about it more, it seemed practical because, I feel, it is not possible to judge a piece of art or make up your mind about it in one day. One needs to spend some time with an artwork to really decide if they want to make it a permanent part of their space or not. This model allows them to do so. Plus, the benefit of receiving a fixed sum on a regular basis also helps me finance my new creations.”
A report released by FICCI-KPMG in February pegs the Indian art market at around Rs1,460 crore. A good portion of this, the report says, belongs to the Rs1 lakh to Rs5 lakh segment, which attracts 12% tax—a rate so high that it discourages buyers. For this reason alone, renting art is the preferred option for some.
When renting art first became a common idea more than a decade ago, the people behind the rental services had a different vision. Curator Adeshwar Puri’s Art Bank in Delhi, for instance, had 1,000 paintings in stock in 2009 that included works of renowned names like MF Husain. In Mumbai, art gallery owner Paresh Mistry served the elites wanting “a piece of art history” in their homes—and his weekly fee was a stunning “10% of the cost of the painting plus a deposit.”
Ten years on, the rental services, the clients, and the artists are different.
According to Sireesha Gopinatham, who founded the Bengaluru-based ArtBuRt with her photographer husband Sriharsha Ganjam in late 2017, one reason for artists to rent out their works is that after showing them as part of various exhibitions, they are left with printed and framed images. “Since these ready images are not being put to any use, renting becomes a good proposition,” said Gopinatham. “It encourages the artists and the customers to get an opportunity to display these valuable original art works at an affordable rate.” Like Ardizen, ArtBuRt mostly rents art to the corporate sector.
Ashwini Kumar Bhat, whose works are available for purchase and rent on ArtBuRt, believes this model is a win-win for the buyers and the artists. According to the landscape photographer, “When one sees the price of some of the independent, sellable wall art and compares it to rental price, they realise that it is really affordable on rent. So the higher price tag for some of the exquisite prints will no longer act as a deterrent for the prospective buyer. This is prompting me to put more and more unique images on the ArtBuRt platform which will help me earn some extra income out of the artworks that were framed for exhibitions and later remained idle.”
Dealing mostly in works by Indian photographers, ArtBuRt wants to expand its operations to include renting to individuals. A company that does already cater to individuals is Floating Canvas Company—launched a few months ago, it runs a subscription service that allows clients to rent art for as little as Rs90 a month.
One of the things that artists are most concerned about is the safety of their works and Vatti believes that the fact that every person handling an artwork—from framers to installers—is a professional is important to them. “They also derive some relief from the fact that their rented works are in the relatively safer environment of corporate offices and boardrooms,” she said.
Ardizen and ArtBuRt both have similar processes in how they go about placing art in a space. It begins with a visit to the corporate office that has put in the request for artworks. “We offer themes such as landscape, nature, cityscape, abstract, and clients are free to suggest the themes they like,” said Vatti. “There are two ways we approach the aesthetics—when we go for a sales meeting, we gauge the place and understand what will work for (it). Alternatively, we request the client to put us in touch with the architect and get the photos of the site. We also give the clients a presentation that has artworks that match the brief. They are free to choose and request for as many iterations as they need, and we usually change the paintings every four or six months, depending on their contract. It’s one of the major reasons why rentals work for both the client and the artist.”
According to Gopinatham, they expect the orders to be for at least five to 10 paintings, but both art firms are willing to customise the process according to the client’s requirements.
In Capgemini’s Hyderabad office, the client-facing areas hold artworks rented from Vatti’s company. “We look to changing the look of the offices every now and then as an important client visit comes around,” said Venkata Vemavarapu, head of service delivery at Capgemini Hyderabad. “Shravani asks us for a theme around a month before installation is due and then we receive a presentation file with possible options. We discuss internally with our team before giving her a go-ahead. It’s a very theme-based curation, such as abstract, landscape, or rural life, and, as such, since their collection is good, there are barely any hiccups in the selection process.”
The starting price for renting a piece from ArtEnthuse is around Rs2,800 per month. The art firm has installed works in over 200 offices across the country and, according to its founder, earns revenue of around Rs3 lakh per month. ArtBuRt is still building its collection and their prices range from Rs10,000 to over a lakh per year.
Gopinatham feels that people have become more accepting of consuming art in different ways and are ready to try out new things and Vatti agrees. “Artists and clients are warming up to the idea and we are getting more requests every day,” said Vatti. “We know the model works in providing the artists with more exposure, because there have been times when a senior management of a company has decided to buy a work at the end of the rental period.” As it happened at Capgemini Hyderabad, recently.
“A painting was hanging in a boardroom and one of our clients really liked the work and bought it,” said Vemavarapu. “We coordinated the sale with Ardizen. The client even got a discount as the painting was on rent for some time then.”