|By Ginger Levit
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Rent with an option to purchase. It happens all the time in real estate, but only every once in a while does it pop up in the art world.
But Nahema Mehta, a 26-year-old graduate of Columbia, who also has a master’s from Sotheby’s Institute of Art and is earning her MBA at Columbia Business School, has made it happen. And it is not surprising that her horizons extended beyond handling Asian and Indian art after she took the initial plunge and got her feet wet in the real art world.
Her idea is to get more art out of the galleries and artists’ studios and into private and corporate hands. Most galleries have accumulated an overflow of paintings, sculpture and other objects packed into their storage rooms.
“The inspiration for this came from visiting many of the art galleries and studios in New York,” Mehta said. “People walk through these galleries and enjoy the art on display, but what they don’t see is the hundreds of items beneath their feet.
“Art should not be stored, but it should be enjoyed. I thought there should be a better way to connect the art with the end users.”
Targeting her potential client, she has identified them mostly as corporate and emerging young collectors.
“I’ve sensed a need for this myself,” she explained. “Many of those who work with us have an interest in art, but they don’t want the up-front investment. Some say, ’I’m interested, but I’m not sure what my tastes are yet.’ This is a way for people to access art without the heavy commitment or investment.”
Once the client decides to rent, the more likely it is that he will become a buyer.
“Especially in New York, people tend to be more cultured; they like to access culture,” she said. “These are the people who are interested in what we offer.”
Launched less than a year ago, Art Remba is already cash-flow positive.
But Art Remba is much more than an art rental service. In the intimidating New York collecting world, “who’s who” and “what’s what” knowledge and credibility is of consummate importance. Mehta takes her clients on art gallery tours and gives art history seminars about the paintings that are available.
She also advises them on what could work, and why, in their own particular space. An art educator, having written her Sotheby’s master’s thesis on trading art; she is also a portfolio manager at Arts India Funds, an investment firm specializing in diversifying clients’ portfolios with art works.
Although Indian, Mehta grew up in Belgium, then came to New York to study business, she realized how intimidating it was to collect art. Her business Art Remba is a sort of art club. Members join for a nominal fee, which makes them eligible to rent art with an option to buy. Rental fees range from 10 to 50 percent of the purchase price of the art.
Art Remba and the gallery keep the entire monthly fee if the client is merely renting; but in the event that the client becomes a buyer, then half the monthly fee is applied towards purchase, which certainly provides an incentive for ownership. She offers a complete service, including transport and insurance. The art available is valued from just a few thousand dollars to about $200,000.
Art Remba offers works from several markets including India, South America, the Middle East and Europe.
Prices for modern South Asian art have soared recently and American collectors know little about that genre. Art from India has become too expensive to buy. This gives Art Remba the opportunity to open the doors to new developing areas of collecting which might begin by leasing.
One of the galleries she sources from is Nolita Indian Art gallery, Aicon Gallery. Artists Francis Newton Sousa, M.F. Husain and Anjolie Ela Menon are South Asian painters whose work has escalated at auction.
Mehta believes there is growth potential for her business.
“Right now we’re really focused on our New York market; but, yes, we have visions for growth,” she reported.
Mehta claims that she has several potential young collectors who claim to be intimidated by art. They know nothing about art.
They look at it and don’t understand it. Now with Mehta’s tutelage, they have been able to acquire bits of the descriptive art vocabulary, learning what to look for in the work, in order to simultaneously engage with it and gain a greater emotional and intellectual understanding of it.
Go to www.artremba.com to learn more.