Art Lounge entrepreneur woos new breed of buyer

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A young entrepreneur from Birmingham is revolutionising the British art market with a radical way of selling that melts the froideur found in traditional galleries.

Veejay Lingiah's Art Lounge is attempting to put the purchase of buying works of art on a par with the kind of shopping experience associated with buying other quality home furnishings.

Fashionable music is piped through speakers and staff are taught not to judge customers on their knowledge, or ignorance of the grand masters.

Clients are encouraged to take out paintings and sculptures on a "try before you buy" basis to see if they feel comfortable with them in their homes, or to rent them for a fixed period.

The Art Lounge sells pieces which range in price from £50 to £20,000 and already has a client list that includes the model Jodie Kidd and the singer Will Young.

Mr Lingiah, 32, was this week named Entrepreneur of the Year in the Arena O2 X Awards, aimed at recognising outstanding work in the creative industries.

The Art Lounge was founded in 2001 and occupies premises in Birmingham's trendy Mailbox shopping mall and in Manchester. Mr Lingiah said: "People are still intimidated by walking into an art gallery and feeling like they need an art history degree before they walk through the door."

A former marketing executive for Boots, he had the idea for the Art Lounge after helping artist friends from his student days at Nottingham Trent University to find buyers for their work. He realised there was a growing interest in paintings and sculpture but a reticence to step into a traditional art gallery.

"The Art Lounge is all about demystifying the sector and taking the elitism away from buying art. It is a hybrid between a retail space and a gallery which aims to soften the experience of buying art and make it more welcoming," he said.

"The team won't look people up and down to judge whether they've got the money to be in there. If they are just starting out with an interest in buying art we can certainly help with that." He said his success had been aided by the increased public interest in home improvements, fuelled by the vogue in property shows on television. "A lot of the programmes have developed people's consciousness of their own living spaces," he said.

The Art Lounge has championed such artists as the Wolverhampton graffiti specialist Temper (real name Arron Bird), whose work has been bought by Charles Saatchi and can fetch £15,000, and Willard Wigan, who specialises in miniature sculptures, including a tiny model of the World Cup.

William Drew, editor of the men's style magazine Arena, said: "Veejay's business takes an established mode of operation - the traditional art-buying process - and turns it on its head. Rather than retaining art's exclusivity, he believes it should be more open to more people.

"The Art Lounge offers an entirely different art-buying environment, combining elements of a contemporary gallery with a consumer-driven retail environment, and a down-to-earth consultation service."

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