As an innovative fintech platform that fractionalizes high-value artworks, Masterworks allows everyday investors access to investment opportunities in blue-chip art, an asset class that was previously only available to the ultra-wealthy.
But with this democratization of art investment has come a fair share of criticism. Masterworks has polarized opinions – while some praise it for opening up access, others question everything from the business model to the investment merits of the art itself.
It’s true that art investing has its detractors. And some of the common criticisms leveled at the asset class do apply to Masterworks as well. But are they enough to write it off completely? Or by being aware of the limitations, can savvy investors use Masterworks strategically for portfolio diversification?
In this article, we’ll examine some of the main arguments against art investment and Masterworks. Not to dissuade you, but to present a balanced perspective so you can judge if fractional art ownership is right for your individual situation and goals. While no investment class (or platform) is perfect, Masterworks does provide a new avenue to an overlooked asset class for those who go in with eyes wide open.
Art Investment is Illiquid
One of the most common criticisms made against art investment is that it’s illiquid. And that’s a fair point – you can’t just call up Masterworks and cash out your shares on a whim when you need some extra money. Artwork investments are inherently long-term propositions.
But, so are many other alternative assets that smart investors allocate towards, like private equity, venture capital funds, or even real estate. Illiquidity is often part of the trade-off for potentially higher returns. And Masterworks does provide a secondary market for investors who want to exit early, even if liquidity is limited.
While the secondary market has risks and drawbacks like any trading exchange, it does offer an avenue to exit early that is absent from many other alternatives. On top of this, Masterworks does fully disclose that the majority of its art investments are held between 3-10 years. This is so the investment stands the best chance at riding short-term volatility in order to realize its full performance potential.
In any event, all savvy investors must factor illiquidity into their decision-making and portfolio allocation. If you go in understanding the long-term nature, illiquidity can be an acceptable trade-off for diversification.
Historical Art Returns Might be Skewed
Another argument you’ll hear is that the glowing historical returns from art investing are suspect. On the surface, who wouldn’t want gains that purportedly beat the stock market? However, critics caution that this data likely suffers from significant reporting bias.
True, art performance metrics should be taken with a grain of salt. The lack of regulations and oversight means data is limited and often reflects selective reporting. But you can have more confidence in Masterworks’ track record, thanks to their proprietary data analytics and expert team.
In an industry not renowned for its transparency, it’s safe to say Masterworks does a good job of being candid with its investment returns. As such, for those who understand data limitations, Masterworks provides credible exposure to an overlooked asset class.
While healthy skepticism is warranted, completely dismissing reported historical art returns could be an overcorrection. The data, while imperfect, still indicates that art as an asset class has offered favorable risk-adjusted returns. Approached judiciously, past performance can inform allocation decisions.
Past Performance Caveats Apply Broadly
It’s true that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. But this is also par for the course with any type of investment.
Sophisticated investors know not to extrapolate too simplistically. And with art fulfilling a unique role in diversification, past returns remain informative.
No prudent investor would make allocation decisions based solely on past performance, regardless of asset class. On the other hand, a long-term track record can provide a useful perspective on art’s investment characteristics like volatility, correlation and inflation hedging.
Dismissing art investment solely because past performance has limited predictive value would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As with any asset class, historical data should be considered judiciously as part of a holistic evaluation.
Masterworks Executives Benefit Alongside Investors
And sure, Masterworks’ founders and executives profit handsomely from the platform’s growth. But let’s be real, aligned incentives are far from nefarious in the investment world.
As long as everyday investors share equitably in the upside, executives benefiting is fair pay for an innovative model.
Would critics prefer that executives didn’t share in the value creation they orchestrate? Aligned incentives are a positive signal that management’s interests are tied to those of participating investors. Criticizing this is misguided – sharing success is the ideal, not a red flag.
As long as Masterworks delivers transparency and fair access, executives allegedly profiting proportionally to investors’ gains is warranted. Their profits signal confidence in their own model – a mentality investors should applaud rather than denigrate.
If You Accept the Tradeoffs, Masterworks Is a Solid Option
While art investment really isn’t for everyone, for those comfortable with the tradeoffs, Masterworks provides legitimate access.
Illiquidity and risk become acceptable to gain exposure to a new asset class. Due diligence is still required, but no investment is perfect. For the right investor, fractional art can strategically enhance a portfolio.
Beyond diversification benefits, Masterworks opens the door to an asset class previously monopolized by the ultra-wealthy. Despite limitations, fractional ownership uniquely democratizes art investment to those who pragmatically accept the tradeoffs.
While this may be a bitter pill to swallow for the gatekeepers of the art world, it certainly brings an exciting new world to investors who don’t have enough spare change to hang a Monet on their bedroom wall.
For optimists who believe the best innovations always face early skeptics, Masterworks represents a bold new frontier. Rather than reject it out of hand, diligent investors should judge if it has a place in their portfolio.
In the end, we must admit that art investment has real risks and Masterworks has its limitations. But for goal-aligned investors, fractional art ownership can be a prudent portfolio addition. By understanding the drawbacks, you can make an informed decision.
After all, Masterworks democratizes art, but it’s up to individuals to weigh if that access fits their strategy.