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Testing out TurningArt, Boston's 'Netflix for artwork'

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 21, 2012 11:55 AM

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I moved into a new place last fall with more wall space than I knew what to do with. In particular, there was a large expanse at the top of the stairs that I wanted to fill. So earlier this year, I signed up for TurningArt, a Boston-based subscription service that promotes itself as "the cure for empty walls."

I'd written about the company a couple times, so I was interested to see how it performed from the consumer's perspective.

The first thing that caught my interest with TurningArt was that at some point, I'd started receiving daily e-mails from the company showcasing the new artists in its collection. The collection is primarily paintings and photography by living artists, much of it with a contemporary, slightly edgy feel. There were a few artists whose work caught my eye. I bought one small original painting from one of the artist's Etsy storefronts for $50. The other artist I liked was selling paintings at a higher price point, and I thought that signing up for TurningArt would be a good way to "test drive" what they might look like in my home.

TurningArt offers two different pricing plans: for $10 a month, you get its standard 16-by-20 inch frame, or for $30 a month you can get a larger 24-by-30 inch frame. Both subscription plans include a free black gallery-style frame with a white mat, and the opportunity to rotate the artwork as frequently as you like. The art you receive is an unsigned, unnumbered "museum quality" print. As with Netflix, you have a queue of artwork you'd like to rent on the website, and the shipping costs are included in the subscription package. Unlike Netflix, you can request your next piece without sending back the one that's in the frame; instead, you use the cardboard box that the new print comes in to send the old one back.

turningart2.jpgI signed up on January 9th, and my first TurningArt box (at left) arrived two days later. It included the frame and the first print I'd chosen already in it. All I needed to do was bang a nail into the wall.

A few weeks later, when I was ready for a change — I'd gotten to the point where I'd stopped paying much attention to the piece at the top of the stairs — I asking TurningArt to send the next print in my queue. But nothing happened for 10 days or so. Finally, wondering what was up, I sent in a customer service e-mail. The new print arrived the next day, rolled up in a pyramidal cardboard box. It was easy to open the back of the frame, pull the old print out, and put the new one in its place. (The art is printed on a slightly plastic-y paper that seems to be tear-resistant.) It was nice to have something new to look at in the hall — the print from Colorado artist Brandy Cattoor that appears above.

turningart-box.jpgTwo days later, I got a response from TurningArt customer service: "I apologize for the delay, for some reason our latest printer order took a bit longer to get to us."

The shipping lag wasn't a big deal — after all, waiting for a new piece of artwork is not the same thing as waiting for a hot new movie to show up in that red envelope. But while TurningArt sent me an e-mail about the very first shipment with the frame, I didn't get any information about when the replacement print was sent out until it appeared on my doorstep.

It's cheap fun to be able to "shop" for a new piece of artwork whenever I get tired of the one I've got, without doing damage to my bank account. And at some point, I may use the TurningArt credit I've accumulated to buy an original piece through the site. (Each month, your subscription fee turns into credit that can eventually be used to defray the cost of an original work by up to 40 percent.) For now, I'm sticking with the service, which has proven a nifty way to create a tiny little gallery in my house that features rotating exhibits.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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