How to invest in art (for everyday people who aren’t rich)

female art investors

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Over the past few years as I’ve started to make good money and max out of tax-sheltered options (401k and Roth IRA), I’ve explored other investment asset classes, or types of investments outside of traditional stock markets. Especially stuff that I can enjoy in real life. Like real estate and art.

The big-ticket art sale headlines always catch my eye:

The recent David Hockney that went for $90 million.

Picasso's “Le Repos” sold for $36.9 million.

It’s not just these sales prices that are eye-popping and pique my greed. These sales figures are also part of the increasing thinking that fine art is a solid investment.

What kind of returns do you get on fine art?

Since 2000, blue-chip art (work from a list of 100 artists that has reliably increased in value like Kahlo, Rothko, Manet) has outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 250% without dividend reinvestment, according to Artprice’s art market index.

Meanwhile, fine art has proven to be more stable during down times. During the 2008-2009 financial crash, art markets dropped less than 26% from their peak, while the S&P declined 57%.

According to Deloitte's 2017 Art and Finance report, 88% of wealth managers say art and collectibles should be included as part of the wealth management offering. But keep in mind: this advice is based on the fact that the art market is global and driven by demand and growth in the ultra-high-net-worth population, which has increased 170% since 2000 and is defined by people who are worth at least $30 million.

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Needless to say, this is all very intimidating to me! I’m a mom who lives in Queens and drives a Subaru!

How can everyday, normal people start to invest in art?

When it typically comes to ‘Blue Chip Art’ — that level is of investing is out my league, and the league of 99.9% of the world’s population.

However, even if I were to invest, say, $5,000 or less, where would I even start? While I enjoy art, have a sense of what I like (though I’m still honing my personal taste, as fine art is not something I grew up with, or studied, or is a thing in my social circles), I feel shy to ask experts about it, and too poor to be taken seriously by “real” art investors or dealers.

The folks at Sotheby’s are looking to unload work in the millions, and aren’t going to waste time with regular folk like me (though, fun fact: The showrooms at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York and other large cities are open to the public, and you can walk right in and browse like your shit don’t stink — because it doesn’t!).

Small, private galleries that offer art in my price range still intimidate me, though less so, and of course they offer a very small selection of art — which decreases the chances that one of their pieces will be a good investment like Blue Chip art has proven to be.

In short, even though I usually feel pretty damned smart, when it comes to investing in art, I feel like a dumbass.

Maybe you know a little bit about art, and want to buy some smaller pieces from a contemporary artist (which means they are still alive — I didn’t know that myself until well into my 30s when my friend was talking really loudly about SOMETHING REALLY IMPORTANT AND ELITIST regarding “contemporary artists” and I felt stupid, so quickly googled it on my phone while pretending to check in with the babysitter. You’re welcome.).

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Modestly priced pieces from contemporary artists can be a great place to start investing in art, but if the price is low and the artist relatively unknown, then the chances of earning a high profit are smaller, since it is an unproven entity — unlike Picasso or O’Keeffe, whose art has a proven market rate. If you do invest in smaller pieces by unknown artists, consider it for your own personal enjoyment of owning a beautiful item to enjoy in your home, rather than part of your retirement portfolio.

On the other hand, there are an emerging number of options for investing in the Blue Chip art market. is one of the best known.

Masterworks is an investment platform designed to allow people like you and me invest in great works by buying shares — just as the stock market allows you and me to buy shares of Amazon, Tesla and Starbucks for an affordable price, and benefit from those companies’ profits.

How do you invest in art through

The company has opened its offering to the public as of this year, and so far has invested in two paintings:

The 1979 Andy Warhol “1 Colored Marilyn (reversal series)” which Masterworks purchased for $1.82 million at auction in 2017, and the 1881 Claude Monet “Coup de vent,” which the company acquired for $6.24 in 2018.

Once Masterworks purchases a painting, they file it as a qualified security offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investors like you and me can buy fractional shares of these pieces for a minimum of $1,000 for the Warhol, and $5,000 for the Monet. Shareholders cannot own more than 10% of any piece.

Investors become shareholders, and vote to decide when to sell the painting.

Shareholders are notified by mail if a private offer for a painting has been made, or if Masterworks executives feel it is a good time to take the painting to auction. Shareholders will then vote online as to whether the private bid is accepted or if it goes to auction.

The company expects to hold on to paintings a minimum of 5 years. Starting sometime in 2019, shareholders can buy and sell their shares in the secondary market for as little as $20 per share, according to the company.

Is legit?

Masterworks is the brainchild of its founder Scott W. Lynn, who is funding the startup after being part of more than a dozen online ventures.

The company has been written about with positive reviews by CNN, Venturebeat, Wall Street Journal, and TechWeek.

You can see the SEC filings for the Andy Warhol painting here, and the Claude Monet piece here.

Where are Masterwork owned paintings stored?

Currently, paintings owned by Masterworks investors are stored in a secure, air-conditioned facility in Delaware. Masterworks plans to open a gallery in New York City in 2019 to display the works.

How does make money?

Masterworks takes a “management fee” which covers storage, transportation and insurance, plus a percentage of any profit made when the works are sold.

The company’s vice president of marketing, Richard McBeath explained to me: “We work to the common industry model of 1/20 (1 and 20). This means we take an annual management fee of 1% (which helps cover storage, insurance, handling, etc.) and 20% of the profit upon liquidation (note: we take 20% of the profits not the sale price, so it is of course in our best interest to purchase and sell the best investment grade works we can).”

How do I buy Masterworks shares?

Create an account at

Set up an account (it takes a few minutes). You can pay by bank transfer, cryptocurrency, or major credit card.

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About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.

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