Masterworks Review 2021: Is it Legit? And What’s the Catch?

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Masterworks is a new platform that gives the everyday investor the chance to invest in fine art, worth up to $30 million by investing in shares of fine art.

With Masterworks, you’ll have the option to:

  • Diversify your portfolio
  • Invest in blue-chip artwork
  • Earn profits from 8% to 30%
  • Protect yourself against inflation
  • Protect yourself against stock market volatility

Let’s take a deep dive into this Masterworks review and find out if Masterworks is the best art investing platform for you.

Masterworks Review 2021

MMW Rating
4.4/5

Masterworks is a fine art investing platform that combines the element of investing in blue-chip art worth up to $30 million with the element of fractional investing.

Typically, the world of fine art investing is exclusively available to the high roller, glitz, and glam world. 

Thanks to Masterworks, the average Joe can now partake in high-end art investing.

Let’s take a big-picture look at the Masterworks pros and cons:

Pros Cons

You can invest in fine art in $20 increments

Fees are relatively high

Masterworks pre-vets artists and artwork

Your money is locked up for long periods

Artwork is insured and stored in secure facilities

You need to do a phone interview before you start investing

Offers secondary market to buy/sell your art shares

Art world is unregulated

$0 minimum investment to open your account

Fees can be confusing for new investors

One reason why Masterworks could be an attractive investment app for many is that it offers the average investor the opportunity to diversify their assets through artwork. 

Artwork is a hedge (aka protection) against inflation and stock market volatility.

As an example, below is a graph illustrating the consistent increase in value with the contemporary art index versus the interest rate environment over the past 2 decades:

graph of contemporary art vs. real interest rates (2000-2020)

The art index (green) continues increasing – which means more money in your pocket.

The interest rates (red) keep decreasing – which means less money in your pocket.

If you’re already invested in the stock market, then you may want to branch out and consider other investment options to diversify your portfolio.

Below is an overview for Masterworks that you should know about before reading further:

Masterworks Overview

Art Investment Options

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Usability

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Projected Profits

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Customer Service

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fees

⭐️⭐️

Liquidity

⭐️

Fees and liquidity scored very low on the rating scale because fees are:

  • Unclear 
  • Complex
  • Very high

Masterworks, being a fine art investment platform, is also not liquid (aka you can’t get your money back today if you wanted to). You’ll have to wait between 3 to 10 years to have access to your money again. 

Lastly, customer service scored average on the scale (3/5) because it appears (from public reviews) that the customer service department does not respond to complaints. 

Keep reading because I go into further depth below.

Masterworks Customer Service Review


There are two ways you can have your questions for Masterworks answered:

  • By Email
  • By Phone

The good news is that you at least have the chance to speak to someone live – not just reach out to the team using email or instant chat. 

I like that Masterworks gives you access to someone who is specifically your “go-to person,” so you don’t have to talk to different people every time you call in.

However, to make sure you get the full picture, you should either check out the BBB (Better Business Bureau) or TrustPilot.com.

Because Masterworks is not accredited with the BBB, there is no customer service information on the BBB site (as of August 2021). However, I did take a peek at the TrustPilot website, and have some information for you below:

masterworks trustpilot

While there are only 6 reviews, it appears that the average rating is just under 3 out of 5 stars – so one could assume that the Masterworks customer service is average.

That being said, I still think it’s important to read the reviews – both good and bad – to make sure you know what an experience with Masterworks could look like for you in the future. 

Common complaints include:

  • Customer service not responding
  • Money transfers do not appear in a portfolio
  • Too many phone calls and emails (from customer service)
  • Customer service representatives not showing up for the phone interview

Chances are, these complaints are one-offs since there were only 4 one-star complaints (out of 6 total reviews) over the past 4 years since Masterworks has been active. 

Take this information with a grain of salt.

What is Masterworks?


If you’ve ever seen a Monet, Da Vinci, Andy Warhol, or Banksy painting, you may have wondered how much money those pieces of art would cost.

The answer is probably in the millions – if not in the tens of millions.

Thanks to Masterworks, based out of New York, virtually anyone can now have access to the exclusive and high-roller art investing world – for a minimum of about $500.

Masterworks is the disrupter, being one of the first platforms to pioneer what is known as fractional art investing.

Once the artwork is sold (by Masterworks), the investor receives a profit proportionate to the number of shares held in the artwork. 

Below are some famous artists Masterworks currently invests in:

  • Banksy
  • Zao Wou-Ki
  • Jean-Michael Basquiat

Below are some examples of the works of art Masterworks is investing in.

masterworks artwork e1631549865944

As the investor, “all” you have to do is invest your money in the artwork that you feel will bring you the highest return.

Masterworks does the rest of the work – the analysis, the artist pre-vetting process, the storage, the insuring of the artwork, and ultimately the sale process as well.

It must be said that Masterworks claims to have a rigorous diligence process, with only 1.8% of artworks passing their tests.

Less than 1.8% of artworks passed the Masterworks diligence process

Below is a breakdown of how much works goes into the fine art investing world (it shocked me to see how many artists were analyzed versus the actual number of artworks that were purchased).

masterworks artwork process e1631549933792

After the Masterworks team analyzes artists and paintings, the team purchases a select number of artworks to be held at the Masterworks secure facility for up to 10 years before the artwork is sold for a profit.

The artists that Masterworks selects have typically shown an above-average historical appreciation (with returns typically higher than the average returns of the stock market, which range at around 7% to 10%).

masterworks artists e1631550057103

The historical returns for most of the Masterworks artists range between 12.70% to 19.80% – which is just about double to triple the returns you often see in the stock market.

My representative and I had a long discussion about how Masterworks was one of the trailblazers when it comes to investing in female minority artists (aka female artists of color or other underrepresented artists).

How Does Masterworks Work?


Masterworks gives a chance to the average Joe to buy fine art by selling fractional shares to investors.

All you do is invest your money and wait for a paycheck in the mail that’s hopefully bigger than the amount you invested.

Below is an outline of how Masterworks actually works:

Masterworks: How it Works

Analyze

Determine the most profitable artists

Buy

Purchase the highest return potential artwork with the lowest price

SEC Approval

Artwork is qualified with the SEC

Invest

Investors are now allowed to invest in the artwork

Storage

Artwork is held and insured at a secure location

Holding Period

Average holding period lasts between 3 to 10 years

Sale

Artwork is sold and you receive profits proportionate to the shares you own

As you can see, there are many steps involved with owning fine art, and Masterworks really does the grunt work for you.

The main downside here (which I’ll explore further in the “fees” section of this article) is that Masterworks charges pretty hefty fees (similar to a hedge fund) where they take 20% of any profits upfront on top of your annual fee. 

Nevertheless, when Masterworks sells an artwork, your expected profit could be pretty high.

In other words, you don’t technically have to wait the full 3 to 10 years before Masterworks sells the artwork for a profit.

Masterworks: The Secondary Market


Do you want to sell the Masterworks shares you bought because you’re sick of waiting for Masterworks to sell the painting and give you your cut?

There is a solution – and it’s called the secondary market.

I should note the secondary market is strictly peer-to-peer.

That means you’ll only be able to buy/sell your Masterworks shares to other Masterworks investors (so your pool of potential candidates is very small).

Typically, the only reason you would want to resort to the secondary market is that you’re looking for liquidity (aka you need the cash) before the painting itself is sold.

I should note that selling your shares is not guaranteed – even on the secondary market.

As my Masterworks representative said to me, “the secondary market is an escape hatch, it’s not a front door.”

Masterworks: The Phone Interview


In order to activate your Masterworks account, you do need to schedule a phone interview (which typically lasts between 15 to 20 minutes). 

I scheduled my phone interview within 2 days of setting up my Masterworks account – so time-wise, I was pretty lucky to land a spot right away. 

Here’s what the phone interview is really for:

  • KYC
  • Suitability
  • First transaction

…And here’s what all of this means in plain English:

Masterworks Jargon Plain English Breakdown

KYC

“Know Your Client” – discussion of your financial profile (how much money are you able to invest, when you want to invest, your profession, etc.)

Suitability

Match Masterworks’ minimum required investment to your investment profile

First Transaction

It sounds like the phone interview is used to help walk you through your first investment purchase

My representative was a bit late for my phone interview, so I had to reschedule it for a later time in the day. 

When I ended up speaking to the representative, I must say that he was very well versed, definitely a salesman (I would say he was a bit pushy because he asked me a few times to invest right away), but I’ll give it to him: He was very knowledgeable about Masterworks.

In fact, I bombarded him with probably 8 questions, and he was able to answer each one of them to my satisfaction. 

After exactly 15:15 minutes, my phone interview was up – it felt like only 3 minutes had gone by – and I continued on with my day.

After I suggested we discuss investing at another time, he agreed and we left things on a good note.

Don’t feel shy about standing your ground – just be true to what you want to accomplish on this call. It’s ok to firmly say “no, thank you” if you’re not ready to invest yet.

Masterworks Fractional Share Investing: Explained


Investing in fractional art shares is revolutionary – it’s new, it’s disruptive, and it could be pretty profitable. 

Here’s a quick overview of how investing in fractional shares with Masterworks…works:

  • Artwork is bought
  • Masterworks files the artwork with the SEC
  • Masterworks creates an LLC for each artwork purchased
  • You can buy $20 shares of ownership for each LLC, until all shares are bought
  • The artwork is kept for up to 10 years before it is sold
  • Masterworks sells the artwork, dissolves the LLC, fees are paid, and proceeds are distributed to the investors

Keep in mind that because you’re technically a part-owner of an LLC, you should expect to receive a tax form that’s called a K-1 at the end of each tax year to file with your tax returns.

Masterworks Usability & Interface


Here’s what I love (and appreciate) about Masterworks:

  • Anyone can invest
  • Easy to link your bank account
  • The website platform is easy to use
  • Easily accessible Masterworks funding calculators 

The major con when it comes to signing up to Masterworks is that you will have to undergo a phone interview (which takes about 15 minutes).

The platform itself is a simple design with an interface that’s fairly intuitive and that can help you find some paintings you may want to invest your money in.

Masterworks Features


Masterworks is a user-friendly “blue-chip” fine art investing platform that gives the average Joe the chance to invest in million-dollar-artwork through fractional investing. 

If your portfolio is already diversified in the stock market and you want to find alternative investments to protect yourself against stock market volatility and inflation, Masterworks could be the right next choice for you. 

Masterworks Features

Minimum Needed to Open Account

$0

Minimum Needed to Start Investing

Depends on your situation (that’s why you have the phone interview to go through how much you can afford to invest)

Investment Fees

1.5% per year + 20% of artwork sale

Secondary Market?

Yes

Holding Period

3 to 10 years

Investment Options

“Blue Chip” fine art – with values typically between $1 million to $30 million

Investment Returns

8% to 30+%

Year Founded

2017

Assets Under Management

$200 million

Current Users (as of August 2021)

190,000

Fractional Investing Available?

Yes – in $20 increments

Available Platforms

Desktop only

Are your assets insured?

Yes – Masterworks stores and insures paintings in a secure New York facility

Customer Service

By Phone: 205-518-5172 Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm EST

By Email: support@masterworks.io

Country Availability

U.S. residents and non-U.S. residents can invest

Secondary Market: U.S. only

Masterworks still approaches art investing with an air of exclusivity, since you technically have to be “invited” to join the art investing world by completing a phone interview.

My representative told me about this statistic, and I was impressed, to be honest.

Masterworks Sign-up Process [Step-by-Step Guide]


Are you ready to start investing in art? 

I’m going to take you through my step-by-step guide on how to sign-up for your Masterworks account today.

First, head to the Masterworks website.

Next, you’ll want to click on the blue button, “Request Invitation.”

masterworks sign up process step 1

Here, you’ll have to complete the information to apply for your membership.

After you’ve input your information, you’ll want to click “request invitation.”

Next, Masterworks will send you an email to verify your information.

masterworks sign up process step 2

Make sure to click on the “Confirm Email” link to verify your account.

Next, you’ll be sent to this homepage for Masterworks investors.

masterworks sign up process step 3 e1631553453482

To complete the Masterworks sign-up process, you’ll need to answer a few of the questions on this Investor Profile page and then hit “finish.”

Note that with each investment input, the calculator to the right of the screenshot above (aka Masterworks Hypothetical Gross Value in 7 Years) spits out a number for how much return on your investment you could expect.

Here’s an example for $1,000:

masterworks sign up process step 4 e1631553507243

So, if you invest $1,000 with Masterworks, you could see a potential return of just over $2,500 in 7 years.

Once you’ve mentioned how much you plan to invest, click the “finish” button.

masterworks sign up process step 5

It looks like I was one of the lucky members who were able to skip the waitlist and am ready to schedule my phone interview to join the Masterworks community.

Masterworks uses Calendly to schedule appointments, so you can select which date works best for your schedule.

masterworks sign up process step 6

The phone interview is about 15 minutes, and it looks like the Masterworks schedule is pretty flexible – at least they were for me!

masterworks sign up process step 7 e1631553646940

From there, you’ll have to select whether you’re a/an:

  • Other
  • Family office
  • Financial advisor
  • Art dealer/advisor
  • Individual investor
  • Existing art collector
  • Institutional investor

Once you’ve selected your fit, next you click finish and you can start linking your bank account to Masterworks using a secure system known as Plaid.

masterworks sign up process step 8

It literally takes a few minutes to link your account before you’re all set up.

masterworks sign up process step 9

Next, you can start browsing which paintings Masterworks offers you to invest in – and simply take some time to browse their website.

To start browsing additional paintings, click on the tab at the top of the website, labeled “Offerings,” and you can scroll through the available paintings for investing.

masterworks offerings

Here’s an example of the paintings you could invest in with Masterworks – ranging up to $24 million in market value (imagine hearing yourself say that you’re a part investor in a $24 million+ painting!).

As of August 2021, Masterworks only offers 3 paintings for investing.

If you want to learn more about the painting offered, click on the tab (bottom, right) that reads “Deal Sheet.”

masterworks deal sheet

I just downloaded a 5-page research document detailing all necessary facts for me to better understand a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which I could invest in through Masterworks (this is the $24 million painting). 

The Deal Sheet reviews the following:

  • The life of the artist
  • Auction results for similar paintings
  • The potential future returns of the painting

The investor (aka you and me) gets a lot of data and information about the potential painting so you can make an informed investing decision. 

I like that.

If you want to learn more about the historical prices of paintings created by specific artists, you can always elect to click on the top tab that says “Price Database.”

masterworks price database

Here you can always do some additional digging and research, depending on how interested and involved you want to be when it comes to investing in art.

If you want to learn more about the historical trading numbers for artists and paintings, click on the “Trading” tab at the top.

masterworks trading

I love getting an overview of how each painting has performed historically speaking – and Masterworks gives you this data with the click of a button.

masterworks trading 2

You can also buy and/or sell painting shares under the “Trading” tab, as shown above.

However, if you want to buy/sell shares (which would happen on the secondary market), you would first have to create an account through “Evolve.”

masterworks secondary market

Note that only US investors would be available to trade using Evolve.

You would also have to link your bank account with Evolve so that you can start buying/selling shares on the secondary market.

At this point, you should be ready to start investing in the art world.

Masterworks Fees and Pricing


Let me be upfront about the Masterworks fees and pricing: The fees are a bit high and they may be a little complex. 

Basically, the Masterworks fees operate very similarly to how fancy hedge funds operate:

  • An annual management fee is charged (1.5%)
  • Masterworks takes a flat 20% commission once the artwork sells
  • Whatever money is leftover, is then redistributed to the investors (you and me)

Here’s what you can expect when you invest in Masterworks:

Masterworks Fees & Pricing

What You’re Investing In

Fine Art

How You Invest

Fractional Shares

Minimum Investment

Between $500 to $1,000 (typically varies based on the cost of the artwork)

Typical Holding Period

3 to 10 years

Annual Management Fee

1.5%

Annual Management Fee is Used For

- Insurance
- Storage fees
- Transportation costs
- Administrative costs
- Annual art appraisals
- Regulatory (SEC) filings

Where the Artwork is Sold

- Auction house
- Private investor

Masterworks Fee Upon Artwork Sale

20% flat commission (similar to hedge funds)

How the Investor is Paid Back

- Initial investment
- Profits are paid (once the painting is sold) proportionately – based on the number of shares you own

Masterworks typically keeps a piece of art between 3 to 10 years.

If Masterworks is unsuccessful in selling the painting to individual investors for a reasonable profit by year 7, then Masterworks reconsiders its strategy.

By year 7, Masterworks then considers selling the artwork at auction houses, where there is a higher chance to sell the painting and pay back the investors (aka you and me) their initial investment + any profits.

In other words, if Masterworks decides to sell the artwork at an auction house, your net profit (aka the amount of money you actually take home) shrinks – but you could still make a profit.

Masterworks Education on Fine Art


Do you want to diversify your investment portfolio with fine art pieces but really don’t know much about the art world?

You’re not alone (I’m right there with you!).

Masterworks realizes that most art investors may not have a solid background when it comes to art – and the platform has found a solution for art newbies like me with their educational resources.

Take the anonymous British street artist Banksy, for example:

masterworks banksy

Masterworks shares a bio about Banksy, and then shares several of Banksy’s paintings – and for how much they have sold in the past.

Here’s a list of the additional educational resources Masterworks offers its investors:

Educational Resource Description

Artist Biographies

Better understand the creator behind the artwork by clicking on the “Further Reading” section

Price Database

Database featuring paintings from each artist with the returns of each artwork

Masterworks Insights

Thoroughly researched and information-driven articles that provide investors with insight into the art investing world

Articles often include pieces written by major platforms including Deloitte, Morgan Stanley, etc.

Deal Sheets

Next to every painting available for investment, Masterworks provides what is known as a “Deal Sheet” for the investor to review the artist, painting specs, etc.

Research Reports & Data

Reports covering the macro level of art investing, including the wellbeing of the art economy, historical auction data, and other art world trends

Candid FAQs

Masterworks offers candid FAQs, where the platform lays out the pros and cons of investing in artwork

Customer Service Representative

Keep in mind you have your own dedicated customer service representative, who can also help direct you to additional resources, should you have any questions

As you can see, Masterworks certainly doesn’t keep the customer in the dark.

Granted, some of the research articles and data are pretty dry and boring, but if you’re wondering how (and where) your hard-earned money is going, I would definitely recommend you to do your research first.

What Artwork Does Masterworks Offer Investors?


As a Masterworks investor, you can invest in a lot of different pieces of artwork – many of which typically cost between $1 million to $30 million (or more!). 

The trick to becoming a successful art investor is to not allow your emotions (aka whether you like a piece of art or whether you hate it) to come in the way of your investments.

Investing should be a rational and analytical process.

Not an emotional one. 

And that’s why Masterworks partners with analysts from well-known firms like Citi to perform deep-dives into each proposed artwork and artist before actually investing in art.

Here’s a little more insight:

Masterworks Investing Insight

Masterworks Invests in

Blue Chip artwork

Artist Examples

- Banksy
- Andy Warhol
- Claude Monet

Percent of Art That Passes the Masterworks Diligence Process

1.8%

Can you sell your shares before the artwork is sold by Masterworks?

Yes (on the Masterworks secondary market)

The good news is that even if you’re not well versed when it comes to art investing, you can rely on the Masterworks team of analysts to make an informed and relatively calculated decision to help your investment earn money in the long run.

Just remember to never invest more than what you are comfortable losing.

Is Masterworks Worth It?


The answer is not as straightforward as I wish it could be.

Masterworks could be worth your time and money if you:

  • Don’t have high-interest debt
  • Are ready to invest in artwork
  • Want to protect yourself against inflation
  • Want to diversify your investment portfolio
  • Want to earn potential returns between 8% to 30%
  • Want to protect yourself against stock market volatility
  • Don’t mind having your money locked up for 3 to 10 years
  • Want to invest in something that isn’t correlated with the stock market

If you feel like these points are you, then Masterworks could very likely be one of the best investment platforms for you. 

Especially if you’re already investing in the stock market, then you may want to protect your money against stock market volatility. 

Artwork can be a great method to protect your overall net worth against the ups and downs of the stock market, as illustrated by this correlation chart below:

graph of comtemporary art correlation factor 1995-2020

This correlation chart shows that when the stock market goes down (which is portrayed by the S&P 500 Total Return bar), the contemporary art market does not go down. 

Markets, based on the graph, that are influenced by the stock market include:

  • Gold
  • US housing
  • Global equities

Gold has an inverse correlation (every time the stock market goes down, the value of gold goes up), while US housing and global equities have a positive correlation (every time the stock market goes down, these markets also go down).

Analysts from Citi Private Bank determined that the correlation between artwork and the stock market is about 0.12, which is a very low level of correlation (i.e., a low correlation is good especially during a recession).

You can also earn some serious money by investing in art.

In fact, the chart below reveals how the annualized performance of contemporary art investments was better than the annualized performance of the S&P 500 (which is the 500 largest companies of the US):

graph of contemporary art annualized performance 1995-2020

Between 1995 and 2020, contemporary art investments returned around 14% while the S&P 500 (and I’m a huge fan of the S&P 500) returned about 5% less, at 9.5%.

Now I’m not saying stop investing in the stock market and dump your money into the art market to get higher returns. That would be a bad idea, especially because the art world is unregulated, it’s risky, and your money is tied up often for multiple years at a time.

But, I am saying that investing in art is a potentially lucrative idea.

Just remember to do your research first, before you commit financially.

Who Should Use Masterworks?


While the concept of investing in fine art might be novel – and exciting – it’s important not to get carried away and invest your life’s savings with Masterworks. 

Below is a list to show you who may want to consider using Masterworks:

  • You’re looking to diversify your portfolio 
  • You’re already invested in the stock market
  • You want to protect yourself against inflation
  • You are looking to earn returns between 8 to 30%
  • You don’t mind locking your money up for 3 to 10 years
  • You want to protect yourself against stock market volatility

Remember that investing in art may not be the right next move for you – but it’s still important to stay informed of your options.

Masterworks Review Verdict


Not many people can say they are “blue chip” art investors – in fact, it’s typically only the top 1% who can boast about their latest art investments.

Not anymore.

Masterworks is the art investing platform we’ve all been waiting for. Now, you and I can invest in million-dollar-artworks with just $20 increments.

Here’s how you use Masterworks:

  • Sign-up to Masterworks
  • Complete the phone interview
  • Meet your dedicated sales rep
  • Start making your fine art investments

While all of this sounds just dandy, keep in mind that Masterworks does charge fairly steep fees. 

However, the interface and user experience itself (in my opinion) makes up for the complexity in the fee structure, because it’