As the art world emerges from the pandemic in its newly hybrid state, numerous digital platforms are springing up, some of which are asking fundamental questions about the industry’s economic equality, accessibility, sustainability and environmental impact.
Among the front runners is Gertrude, an art-lending platform named after the influential collector and philanthropist Gertrude Stein, which offers subscribers the chance to rent works of art for just £50 a month with the option to buy at any time (rent paid is subtracted from the final purchase price). Works are all valued at between £2,000 and £12,000.
It is the brainchild of the founders of London’s The Sunday Painter gallery, who are collaborating with other galleries including Guts, Seventeen and Castor to consign works, as well as working directly with artists without representation.
Crucially, artists will be paid £30 a month for each work that is selected for rental (the maximum number of works any artist can consign to the site is ten), potentially earning them a maximum stipend of £300 a month. “We believe this could be something truly game-changing for artists, potentially covering the cost of a studio and allowing real sustainability for their practice,” says Will Jarvis, the co-founder of The Sunday Painter gallery and chief revenue officer of Gertrude.
Experience over object hood
The potential to disrupt the current model is perhaps even more far reaching, with Gertrude switching the focus from an object-based economy to an experiential one. “The values are the same in many ways, but this is a different way of consuming art,” Jarvis explains. “We want to move away from this idea of art as a proxy for a wall hanging display of wealth.” Reconfiguring the value in the market beyond the privileged few is another aim, he adds: “If the market is like a spike with most of the money at the sharp point, we want to hinge it open so it’s much more evenly distributed.”
Nonetheless, one of aims of the scheme is for collectors to be able to buy the works they rent. “The difference is this will allow people to come to that decision at their own pace,” Jarvis says. “The art world is not only alienating because of the financial side, it’s also quite alienating unless you’re au fait with its machinations.”
Gertrude will also allow for experimentation in terms of what artists choose to create. The US painter Cynthia Daignault, who is producing pieces specifically for Gertrude to be released next year, says she intends to explore “ideas of dispersion” in her new works. “What does renting mean? What does dispersion look like? What does it mean to crowd-own something, or for a work to enter multiple homes at once?” she asks.
Streaming in the art world
The artist makes the comparison with streaming services such as Netflix or Apple TV. “Movies or television series are like works of art that are beamed into all our homes, they are works that we all have a stake in, that we pay a subscription for,” she notes. “So I’ve been thinking about this idea of how a painting can relate conceptually to film and television.” Economically, too, subscription services such as Patreon and Twitch are providing creators with steady income streams.
However, physical works are susceptible to wear and deterioration in ways that digital art isn’t. Paintings, for example, can be easily damaged by smoke and fumes as well as UV light. But, Daignault says, “if you make something knowing that it could be destroyed or remade, then you don’t stress about the insurance”. The artist suggests that platforms such as Gertrude could radically change the perception of how art functions and is handled in the home. “Maybe you start to design works that can get dirty, or endure cracks and breaks, and that’s part of the work, like a patina that aggregates as it goes through different people’s houses,” she says.
Though likely to be hugely beneficial for artists in the early stages of their careers, Daignault says she will make less money on Gertrude than if she released a body of work via her gallery. The established South African artist Ansel Krut agrees. Krut has released five diptychs on paper on Gertrude, priced at £2,500 each.
Describing them as like “haikus of my work”, Krut says the new platform has enabled him to develop new ways of working and showing his art. “Gertrude has given me an opportunity to shuffle the deck,” he says, noting that being actively involved in the curatorial aspect of how his work is displayed has been liberating. “Gertrude is sort of operating in that mid space between the studio and the gallery world,” he adds.
So could this change the relationship between the artist and collector? Krut thinks so. “Certainly in my case, it makes the relationship between myself and the purchaser more personal,” he says. “It feels like a different interaction, it’s not just a transaction.”