Ellannah Sadkin, Curina artist

When Curina founder, Mio Asatani, made the move to New York City in 2017 to attend Columbia Business School she says she was faced with a challenge when trying to make her new apartment her own. Though in her journey to purchase original fine art by New York artists, Asatani told WWD she was met with unwelcoming and uninterested gallerists.

Asatani soon found her experience was not uncommon and other potential art collectors in her business classes also found the process to be intimidating. The young professionals, Asatani found, were left wanting.

According to Asatani, these Millennials, who have a reputation as a generation that strives to be unique through purchases and social media, deserved better. Her solution, Curina, offers three subscription plans which provide members with curated art from New York artists.

Here, Asatani talks to WWD about empowering New York artists, sharing curated art with the Millennial consumer and the challenges she faced as a female-led start-up.

WWD: Who are the artists you work with? How do you find them?

Mio Asatani: In the flood of images and information that comes with looking at art digitally, I’m sticking to the idea of selective curation. “Quality over quantity” definitely applies here. We’re looking for New York artists who think a lot about what it’s like to live in our day and age, issues urgent and close to our lives like digitalization, urban architecture or cultural identity.

We also expect [the artists] to use the medium of painting with a critical eye because it has such a long history that can be turned around and used to question its own assumptions — incorporating sculptural or craft elements, for example. I think Curina’s unique perspective is what led to our partnership with Kathryn Markel Fine Arts — we share an eye for works that will be more than a new sensation.

Mio Asatani, Curina

Mio Asatani, founder of Curina.  Courtesy Image.

WWD: What have the challenges been as a female-led start-up?

M.A.: I think my challenges are multilayered. I am female, young and, on top of that, Asian. I work with not just artists and galleries, but also with real estate management and brokerage firms, which are dominated by much older white men. The concept of rental subscription for fine art is unique and the founder doesn’t look like anyone they have done business with in the past.

Having to deal with too many unfamiliar elements can be scary for some people. I’ve had someone tell me “That’s a cute little school project. Good luck.” But at the end of the day, these comments don’t matter because if I can offer a value that no one else can, they can’t say “no.”

WWD: Why is the idea of renting art a need for consumers now? 

M.A.: People want something unique. They no longer want mass-produced posters or to live in the same-looking houses as everyone else. They want a piece of culture in their home and to be inspired.

And people don’t stay in one place forever anymore. They are looking for a more flexible way to enjoy art and that’s why subscription models are so popular right now.

Curina wants to offer a new art ownership model. Art is not just for rich people. Buying art doesn’t have to be so extraordinarily serious and inflexible. I hope our rental model will lower the hurdle and let people enjoy art for what it is like it’s supposed to.

I hope Curina changes not only the ownership, but the perception people — especially young people — have about art. I believe art could and should be part of everyone’s lives, homes and conversations, and I hope Curina can help do that.

WWD: Who is your primary consumer?

M.A.: We have two types of customers. The first type is Millennial business professionals who want to graduate from buying generic posters from Ikea but don’t want to commit to expensive pieces. They are frequent customers of Rent the Runway and Feather. They rent for the duration of their apartment lease or until their tastes change.

The second type is customers who want to see the art in person and try before they buy. They don’t have the time to visit galleries, but they [also] aren’t comfortable spending a few thousand dollars for online art either. They like Curina because the rental fees go toward purchasing and they feel it’s risk-free.

Kimmy Quillin, Curina

Kimmy Quillin, a featured artist available with Curina subscription.  Courtesy Image.

WWD: How does your idea reflect Millennial behavior today?

M.A.: I see a lot of Millennials consider “buyership” less as owning a product than a gesture of supporting a community or idea. Especially in New York, there’s always been a strong cause for supporting your local creatives.

That’s why DIY collectives and venues with experimental spirit can survive where it can’t anywhere else. We’re trying to bridge this community spirit with an online presence that can sometimes seem impersonal, by creating content about the stories behind each work and by challenging the stuffy way art tends to be described.

WWD: How long do consumers generally rent a piece of art?

M.A.: Anywhere from six months to two years. Our customers like that the subscription model gives them the freedom to enjoy fine art for as long as or as short as they would like.

WWD: Is there something ideal about a subscription service for this audience?

M.A.: People appreciate change and experience more than ever. More and more Millennials are moving around for a new adventure. They don’t want to be tied down to one place, style or environment. That’s why a lot of our customers already use other rental subscription platforms like Live Feather and Rent the Runway. These rising start-ups accommodate people’s changing lifestyles.

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