“Gallerists to the people” startup Artify.it has shut down, a spokesperson for the company said. The San Francisco-based startup offered art rentals to subscribers a la Netflix for $50 a month, with a “white glove” installation service and commission-based sales model.
Artify.it had raised $800,000 in seed funding from Peter Thiel, Benjamin Ling, Quest Ventures and Joe DiPasquale last April.
When it launched in June 2012, the company’s model was hailed as the next big thing in art, thanks to its position between intersecting Venn diagrams of trendiness: the sharing economy and a subscription commerce. You can share cars, beds and skills, and you can subscribe to music, movies and jam of the month. Why not art, too?
Plenty of other startups (all with the word art in their name, because apparently that is required in this industry), have followed. Artsicle launched at TechCrunch Disrupt with its “Gallerists to the people” model. GetArtUp in San Francisco also offers a subscription plan, as does Turning Art in Boston and RiseArt in the UK.
Artify.it launched with 3000 beta users and 50 artists on board. The launch generated a decent amount of buzz:
Inc said it had an “intriguing model,” as “a natural extension of existing art museum rental galleries that have been sharing and renting art for years.” Huffington Post called it a “creative new spin for the industry,” which is “definitely disruptive.” SmartPlanet said the company was an “antidote to the complexity of, and high financial barriers to, art collecting.” PC Mag highlighted the company’s commission-based sales model, “Artify Scout.” Forbes called it “the next logical step” for the aging model of traditional art galleries.
Founder and CEO Lorenzo Thione previously co-founded Powerset Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft in 2005. I interviewed him last Fall as he was in the process of raising a Series A round of funding and securing partnerships from both businesses and philanthropies. At the time, Artify had 40 subscribers, one third of which were businesses and the rest were individuals. The funding and partnership announcements did not materialize.
Thione said then that his biggest challenge was funding leads for customers who understand the opportunity of renting art. He also noted that geographical limitations to the white glove art installation service, which was only available in San Francisco, held the company back from fast early growth. “While reception to our concept has been very positive, only a portion of (potential customers) are in San Francisco area, so it becomes a challenge to find qualified leads,” he said. Artify’s target market was people who would otherwise buy art or prints of art who would choose instead to pay a for rotating pieces of art in their home.
Thione declined to comment. A company representative had no details on the decision to shut down other than to say Thione would focus on other projects.
The art rental model makes sense in theory. With one company in a sea of competitors calling it quits, it’s up to Turning Art, RiseArt, GetArtUp and Artsicle to prove it out in practice.