Is Nahema Mehta everywhere at once? The CEO and cofounder of the art-buying online destination Absolut Art spends about 10 days a month in her home in New York, with the rest of her time jetting between Stockholm, London, Hong Kong, various other cities in Europe and Asia, and soon Africa, as the company expands its focus to artists living there. “It’s a little unsustainable now that I’m going on seven months pregnant,” Mehta laughs, calling from Switzerland during a brief family visit en route to Sweden. But it’s all in a day’s work.
“We look at different parts of the world and we see where we think it would be interesting to explore the art scene,” says Mehta. “Then I literally hop on a plane and go with the curator from artist studio to artist studio.” Fittingly, the Absolut Art tagline reads, “bringing the world’s artists to a global audience.”
The site provides full-service support to anyone with an internet connection who’s interested in buying art, from online art advising to digital visualizations of what a piece might look like in your living room. Absolut Art’s inventory is made of limited-edition prints ranging from $100 to a few thousand dollars, commissioned exclusively from artists, mainly emerging, based anywhere from Stockholm and Los Angeles to Berlin, Havana and soon Hong Kong. They belong to a roster that Mehta assembles in close collaboration with local curators, the likes of whom have included art-world veterans like Francesca Gavin in Berlin and Samantha Culp in Los Angeles, alongside under-the-radar talents like Abel Gonzàlez in Havana.
Their role is to help Mehta navigate a landscape of emerging or less widely known artists. In Havana, thanks to Gonzàlez, she was able to spend time with artist Hamlet Lavastida, whose works countering Cuban political and military propaganda have resulted in his three-year exile from the country. “The bravery around that is so spectacular,” Mehta says. “I remember fighting tooth and nail with Absolut to say that we need to find a way to make his art available. Because of all the sanctions, I worked with our legal team for over a year to make that happen. That’s sort of part of our premise, bringing those voices to the foreground.”
The vast potential for the internet to break boundaries in the art world, both in the buying and selling of art, is something that Mehta recognized early on. While more traditional modes of collecting have been typically intimidating and exclusive—”You can’t afford this, so you’re not from the right socioeconomic background to participate in this,” as Mehta characterizes it—an online platform could provide a space for a “seamless, contextualized and inclusive experience for people.” Following career stints in law and private equity, Mehta founded the online platform Art Remba in 2010, back “when you couldn’t get a gallery or an artist to want to be online.”
“I think that it was a little bit of fear of what it would do to the existing ecosystem,” she explains, “but in fact it was just going to extend its reach. Today it’s seen more as another channel for anyone, an artist, or a gallerist, or a museum to do their work, rather than something that was going to be threatening their livelihood.” In 2014, she caught the attention of a Swedish vodka company who wanted to buy her services and Absolut Art was born. As the art world more comfortably progresses into the internet age, it opens itself to a world of possibilities.