Nahema Mehta isn’t interested in disrupting the art world, she’s set on actively conquering it from within — and her plan is working.
Mehta is the founder of start-up Art Remba, a web-based club that allows members to rent pieces of art from top galleries and artists for their home or office. It’s a luxury service, launched in the Spring of 2012, and already cash flow positive.
Art Remba takes its members to see galleries and shows, consults them on what will work well for their taste and space, and handles insuring and transporting any pieces.
Art Remba will even break down talking points about the art members decide to rent. Mehta’s clients range from venture fund offices and young art enthusiasts, to seasoned collectors looking to diversify their holdings to new markets (think: Western Art collectors looking for pieces from Latin America).
“We’re going after a demographic that the art world always wants to reach, but the secret sauce is making things accessible without losing the gallery feel of exclusivity. That’s why it’s members only,” Mehta told Business Insider.
The idea for Art Remba came from something simple. Mehta, who was educated at Columbia University and Sotheby’s’ Institute of Art, hates the idea of works of art being locked in storage. Art Remba is an effort to ensure that pieces are always being enjoyed.
To accomplish that, Mehta is working with galleries and artists. She may have found herself in something she calls, “start-up free fall,” trading French lessons for HTML training sessions, but Mehta is as Wall Street as she is Silicon Alley. Her Sotheby’s master thesis, fo example, was called Trading Art: The Evolution of Art Funds and the Feasibility of Exchange Traded Products for Art — she was valedictorian of her class.
On top of all of that, Mehta is a portfolio manager at Arts India Funds, an investment firm that specialises in diversifying its client’s portfolios with precise valuations of art works.
“When people talk about the art market in general, I run away screaming,” said Mehta. “People often think they can treat art as any other market, but the art market is illiquid, opaque, and an insiders game.”
The combination of art industry insider clout, startup creativity, and a strong background in finance is getting Mehta noticed worldwide. Earlier this year she was speaker at the International Art Industry Forum and also presented Art Remba at the Dublin Web Summit 100 Strong Startup Competition in October.
“There’s a lot of glamour in disruption… But I wanted to work with the establishment because if you don’t, you don’t get established artists,” said Mehta, later adding, “I’m a mathematics person. I’m a fund manager, that’s what I do.”
That’s why Art Remba has become a go-to for people looking for an easy, efficient way to enter the world of fine art. Prospective members need only fill out an application that discloses, most importantly, the level of security in their apartment building or office. Dues are a membership fee plus 10%-50% of the value of any works the member is renting at the moment. That money can go toward purchasing the art, which ranges in price from a few thousand to $150,000.
It’s an attractive deal, and that’s why it’s working. Mehta says that won’t stop her from continuing her work as a portfolio manager, though… or from sitting on the Asia Society Young Patrons board, or from acting as the Columbia Alumni Association’s Ambassador to her native Belgium.
“I will never have made it. There’s always something next. I think the second you think you’ve made it and become complacent, you become blind to opportunities that are out there,” said Mehta.
Her eyes are obviously wide open.