Guide to Fractional Art Investing

By MP Dunleavey · May 30, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Fractional Art Investing

Fractional art investing allows individual investors to purchase shares of higher-priced artworks, and (assuming the art appreciates) to realize a profit when the work is sold.

The cost of owning and maintaining individual works of art can be prohibitive for many people, especially retail investors. Fractional art investing has evolved as an accessible alternative to owning physical art, which can entail significant expense, management, and maintenance issues.

Investing in art is considered a form of alternative investing, which means that art, and fractional art investments, don’t typically move in sync with conventional asset classes like stocks and bonds. While art assets may offer growth opportunities, and the potential for portfolio diversification, they also come with certain risks.

What Is Fractional Art Investing?

As an increasing number of investors have begun to explore alternative asset classes, collectible art has emerged as a potential growth area.

Just as savvy stock market investors seek out top companies to invest in, many art investors likewise want to put their money into so-called blue-chip art: well-known works by established artists that may be more likely to appreciate in value. In addition, established but less well-known artists — like so-called growth stocks — are also attracting interest, based on their potential to gain value.

Given that it’s expensive to purchase and own works of art, fractional art investing — like investing in fractional shares of stock — allows investors to own shares of existing works, spread some of the investing risk across a range of pieces, and get a proportional share of any gains when the art is sold (although there are no guarantees that the art will appreciate).

Because art isn’t considered one of the traditional asset classes — including stocks, bonds, and cash — it can also offer investors diversification.

Art Market Growth

The global art market suffered during the pandemic but has since recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with sales of about $65 billion in 2023, according to the Art Basel-UBS Art Market Report 2024. (There has been a similar surge of interest in other valuable types of collectibles.)

Nonetheless, 2023 saw a 4% dip in overall sales from the previous year, owing to the high interest-rate climate, inflation, and geo-political issues. But transaction volume did increase by 4% from 2022 to 2023.

In addition, there is growing interest in fractional shares as an easier way to invest in art. According to ArtTactic, an art market research company, more than $625 million in fractional art shares were sold between 2017 and 2022. Because of the relatively lower price point, and the focus on returns (not owning art, per se), fractional art investing is attracting younger buyers, who may not be as affluent, but who are contributing to the liquidity of the art market.

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Fractional Art Explained

Fractional art investors don’t hold onto the art; they may never see it. Rather, a company that specializes in offering fractional art investments buys and maintains the actual pieces (say, a painting by Pablo Picasso or a sculpture by Fernando Botero), and then issues shares of each work to investors.

Art can be securitized in a couple of different ways, and as technology evolves more options are likely to emerge. In some cases the art is treated like a company, registered with the SEC, and the shares are sold to investors. In other cases a few works might comprise a fund that investors can buy shares of, similar to a mutual fund (which holds many companies). In some cases shares are managed using smart contracts on a blockchain.

Whereas the purchase price of a painting might be in the millions, investors could buy shares of a painting for, say, $50 per share. Prices vary widely, depending on the platform, and there may be high investment minimums (e.g. $3,000 and higher)

Share prices also include a fee for the maintenance and storage of the art, which can be relatively high, even when divided proportionally among shareholders. Similar to investing fees, even small amounts can add up over time.

How to Invest in Fractional Art: 3 Steps

Fractional art investing platforms may offer some liquidity in the form of on-platform trading. But generally it’s difficult to trade fractional shares of art. At the moment, fractional ownership is more of a long game, with lock-up periods that can last as long as a few years or a decade. Here’s how to start:

Step 1: Join a Platform

The first step is to find a platform that supports fractional art shares, and become familiar with its offerings.

Once you feel comfortable that a certain platform has the type of art you’d be interested in, get to know its terms (the investment minimum, cost per share, the fees involved, length of commitment) and sign up.

Step 2: Purchase Shares of Art

Decide which artwork or works you want to invest in. Be sure to understand the terms, and how long your money will remain invested.

It’s important to know that there’s no guarantee that the piece(s) you pick will appreciate in value.

Step 3: Wait or Trade

Depending on the platform, you may be able to trade your shares on an on-platform secondary market of sorts. In some cases, investors could potentially see dividend distributions before the end of their investing term. Otherwise, all you need to do is wait for your investment to be sold and take it from there.

Remember, the value of art can fluctuate considerably over time, so there’s no certainty that you’ll see your hoped-for return.

Pros and Cons of Fractional Art Investing

Fractional art ownership has emerged as a legitimate investing strategy, but because art is an alternative investment, there are a number of risks that investors must keep in mind, so it’s important to consider the pros and cons of investing in art.

Pros

Investing in fractional shares of art can be an affordable way to participate in the art market.

Art is considered an alternative investment, so investing in fractional shares also offers the potential for diversification.

Some pieces of art have been known to appreciate, especially if they’re by well-established artists. But in some cases works by less well-known and/or contemporary artists may appreciate as well.

Cons

Investing in art, whether through owning an artwork outright or through fractional shares, can be risky. The value of a piece of art is difficult to establish, and tends to fluctuate based on trends and tastes, not intrinsic or fundamental value.

As a result, an investment that looks promising now may not turn out to be profitable in the long term.

In addition, investing in fractional shares requires most investors to hold their investment for a period of years before the underlying work is sold. This means your capital is locked up, and may or may not see a return.

Fractional Art vs. Buying Art Yourself

Unless you have the resources to purchase, insure, and maintain a work of art yourself, buying fractional shares may be the best way to go. Owning physical art is a commitment, and can be quite expensive, putting aside the purchase price itself.

It’s true that art investing can be risky, but fractional shares may require less capital, which lessens the risk factor (although the risk of loss is always possible).

The Takeaway

The cost of owning individual works of art is out of reach for many investors. Fractional art investing is emerging as an accessible, and sometimes profitable option. Investors get to “own” part of a masterpiece, or an emerging artist’s work, without the headache of storing and maintaining it.

That said, investing in art is a type of alternative investment. While non-traditional assets may offer growth opportunities and the potential for portfolio diversification, they can also come with certain risks, such as market volatility, a lack of transparency, and little to no regulation in some cases.

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FAQ

Is fractional art a good investment?

Buying fractional shares of art can be a good investment, but it’s difficult to predict. The art market is notoriously volatile, and knowing whether a piece of art will gain value depends on trends over time. Like any type of alternative investment, the art market isn’t transparent or heavily regulated.

How does fractional art work?

As it sounds, investors can purchase a percentage of a given work of art, typically via a platform that specializes in fractional art investing. Buying fractional shares may be inexpensive, but there can be fees and investment minimums to consider as well.

In addition, your investment is often held for a period of years, until the work is sold. At that time, if there is a gain, it would be shared (minus fees) proportionally with investors.

Is Investing in art profitable?

There’s no way to predict for certain whether investing in art (or commodities or real estate or any type of investment) will be profitable. It depends on the investment you choose and what happens in the market by the time it’s sold.


Photo credit: iStock/South_agency

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