Exclusive: ArtRank Founders Enter Art-Lending Biz, Offering Fast Cash for Young Works

'Dollar Sign' (from a set of 12) (1982) by Andy Warhol. (Photo by Danny Martindale/FilmMagic)
Dollar Sign (from a set of 12) (1982) by Andy Warhol. (Photo by Danny Martindale/FilmMagic)

​Art collectors, here’s a pitch for you, courtesy of the new company Levart Inc.: “Leverage your art collection. Incredibly fast and easy loans against your artworks. 4% Monthly, No Fees. Money tomorrow.”​

ArtRank, a controversial year-old art-market database and researcher that promises its proprietary algorithm can spot emerging artists on the rise, has launched a sister company that loans money against art.

Introducing the service, co-founder Carlos A. Rivera told the Observer exclusively, “Art loans are by no means new.[Indeed, Sotheby’s and Citibank, among other companies, have major divisions that loan against art] However, loans on works of emerging and mid-career artists are completely unprecedented. We loan on art starting at $5,000. This is made possible by the pricing algorithm we’ve developed, verified and back-tested.”

Jonas Wood's "Bullets" (2007) (Photo: Anton Kern Gallery)
Jonas Wood’s Bullets (2007) (Photo: Anton Kern Gallery)

In other words, clients will be able to borrow money against their holdings of works by relatively little-known artists, using those pieces as collateral, possibly for further art purchases. The buys could be made through ArtRank, which also has an art-selling operation.

Rivera’s new company has been in development for a year, he said. Independent and self funded, partnering with individually accredited banks and lenders to make the loans, it is a separate service and will not be a part of the ArtRank site—and thus Levart’s loan portfolio will presumably not influence its rankings and advice.

Despite the numerous players in the art-lending business, this is a genuinely new service for collectors, who normally have difficulty arranging loans against artworks by painters without a long-established sales record, or have to pay prohibitive premiums to do so. That said, the increased availability of easy credit has been a reliable harbinger of declines in the art market in the past.

ArtRank launched in February 2014 and immediately garnered massive attention for its ruthless “buy, sell now (peaking), liquidate and “early blue chip” recommendation lists on artists, many of them very new to the market. It also gained notice for its hubris: Rivera, the only public partner of what he describes as a triumvirate of founders, essentially marketed his service to speculative art “flippers” who trade art as a short-term investment.

Artnet, Art Price, ArtTactic, Mei Moses: they all give subscribers charts and numbers, of course, without making any calls or judgments. But ArtRank bases its recommendations on a black box algorithm that weighs “Presence, Auction results, market Saturation, market Support, Representation and Social mapping” to create an “artist trajectory” and then hands down advice.

Rivera said “I do believe that what we have done is in some way disruptive.” Viewing ArtRank as a sort of Robin Hood, Rivera sees it as a “disintermediation” of the art-advisory process, handing information over to the public, quarterly, for free.

ArtRank does charge $3,500 for Early Access subscriptions: 10 individuals get the news first by a couple of weeks. “These are individuals who appreciate having expert knowledge from crowdsourced information,” he explained.

An Alex Israel at Almine Rech Gallery
An Alex Israel at Almine Rech Gallery, 2012.

Experts, veterans and rivals disagree on the usefulness of ArtRank. Anne-Hélène Decaux, head of Marketing and Communications at Artviatic, which facilitates private sales of art, points out, “the level of information is not detailed enough. Every piece is different and it is not the same if you have a historical Cory Arcangel or an anecdotic Korakrit Arunanondchai.”

Clayton Press, of Linn|Press Advisory put it this way: “ArtRank strikes me as a subjective listing influenced by social media.”

Does the algorithm work? Well, Rivera happily says that ArtRank was “early” to such artists as Chris Succo, Alex Israel, Christian Rosa, Aaron Garber Harold Ancart, Jonas Wood, Jamian Juliano Villani, Torey Thornton, Math Bass, Will Boone, Avery Singer and Calvin Marcus, among others.

Most of these artists have, according to Rivera, achieved a  “3x-10x appreciation” since they were featured as “buys.” He cites artist Jean Baptiste Bernadet, who’s works were $12,000 when recommended, and went on to sell for $120,000.

And when has ArtRank gone wrong?

Rivera does not shy from the answer, “There are often artists in the ‘Buy Now’ columns who, in my opinion, lack the artistic merit to belong alongside the other artists listed. As we do not weight subjective opinions, these artists end up on ArtRank. Some past examples: Joe Reihsen, Kasper Sonne, Michael Staniak and Ayan Farah. I consider these to be the greatest prognostication ‘failures’ of ArtRank.”

Levart will presumably not be lending against those.

A Calvin Marcus on view earlier this year in Bushwick;  He is among the artists ArtRank founder Carlos Rivera said his proprietary algorithm has spotted early in their career.
Exclusive: ArtRank Founders Enter Art-Lending Biz, Offering Fast Cash for Young Works