While New York Times art columnist Souren Melikian observed recently that the steep price rise over the past five decades has made buying art "the privilege of the very rich," young entrepreneurs like Tel Aviv-based Lee Rotenberg and Alex Schinasi are working hard to buck that trend.
The two business partners, an American and Swiss who both unexpectedly found themselves attracted to Tel Aviv, launched Artsetters four months ago "to penetrate creative circles in cities that are often inaccessible and elevate young artists to the international scene," as Rotenberg explains. The benefit to art lovers, they say, is the opportunity to invest in art by emerging young artists while they are still affordable.
Outside their temporary boutique in the Brown Urban Hotel in Tel Aviv, the two explain that their business model is to connect in cities across the world with trendsetting artists, who then serve as Artsetters ambassadors.
"No one knows the trendsetters inside these cities," says Rotenberg, a Boston native living in Tel Aviv since 2010. "Alex and I created Artsetters to fill this niche."
"We want the locals to tell us what is hot," adds Schinasi. "Currently, it's hard for buyers to access cool content that's not mainstream."
Neither of them originally planned to stay in Israel. Rotenberg, whose family is involved in the art scene in Boston, came to Israel to work for Investing.com. Her Israel connection is that her grandfather, Harold Rotenberg, was an artist who has a painting hanging in the Knesset. Swiss-born Schinasi, whose mother is Swedish and father Egyptian-Italian, came here in 2011 to work on Eran Riklis' most recent film, "Zaytoun."
"What kept us here was the creative scene," says Rotenberg. "We both didn't have the intention of staying, but we couldn't leave." The two met through a mutual Belgian friend at dinner.
Offering what they call "curated, selective content," the young company - which is incorporated in the United States - seems to have struck a chord. It already has 19 centers across five continents. The company's Facebook page received over 1,800 Likes before last Monday's official launch, and its Instagram site has about 1,000 followers. Their website is www.artsetters.com.
"We are very big in Beirut," says Schinasi. She says that through their connections, someone in Beirut bought a piece of art from Tel Aviv - only possible because the art is shipped from the company's base in the United States.
The boutique at the hotel, which will remain open for the next four weeks, is enveloped in cardboard to give a sense of transience, the two explain. A variety of items by a few dozen artists are on display, spanning from jewelry and textiles to photographs and drawings. The artists include Guy Yanai, an Israeli who grew up in Boston; Oh So Arty, the blogging pen name of Belgian Sarah Peguine, and Paperwallet (aka New Yorker Elad Burko).
Beyond the immediate exhibit, the duo foresees further expansion, noting that they have received numerous requests by artists around the world to become Artsetters ambassadors. "Under the Artsetters umbrella, we have created one unified community," states Rotenberg, who stresses that e-Commerce 2.0 – which has been described as a more social, personalized shopping experience - is the future of art.