The art world has long functioned under the same narrow model, whereby exclusive galleries control access to sought-after artists. They stage exhibitions targeting ultra-high-net-worth collectors, with paintings on consignment from collectors or owned by dealers. When pieces sell, the gallery takes a significant chunk of the proceeds. Only the top sliver of society gets to actually access and enjoy original works up close. But that’s starting to change.
A disruptive new gallery model is emerging that challenges the exclusivity of the art market. Masterworks, the fractional investment platform, recently opened a gallery that is currently showcasing work collectively owned by thousands of fractional investors.
Based in New York’s Upper East Side, Level & Co. put on an exhibition titled “Into Another World,” featuring major works by Cecily Brown, Nicolas Party, Dana Schutz, Matthew Wong and Shara Hughes. These works are all partially owned by everyday investors through Masterworks’ crowd-funding model. Opened in early September, the show welcomes art lovers on an appointment basis until it closes on October 27.
The exhibit represents a new trend in how art is appreciated and financed. What if work was exhibited publicly that was already co-owned by regular people, not just trying to attract bids from the uber-elite? Whereas art transactions have traditionally been sequestered in rarified spheres of high-priced galleries, auction houses, and museums, Masterworks is proving that art can be cooperatively owned and enjoyed by the many.
So what inspired Masterworks to pioneer this new gallery concept? The company saw many of their collector-investors were eager to experience works in person after appreciating them virtually on the investment platform. Level & Co. was created as a more traditional gallery where people could view works in person. Level & Co. also serves as a hub for many players in the art finance space, helping to build connections among stakeholders – and buzz for the works on display.
Can crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing scale to transform the entire art market? When you look at how crowd-funding has impacted creative fields like music, film, and publishing, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. It’s not a giant leap to say that the same sweeping change can happen with the visual arts as well – despite, or perhaps because of, its traditionally elitist nature.
After all, Masterworks is already proving that high-caliber art can be cooperatively owned, funded, and exhibited in public spaces outside of the closed dealer-collector dynamic. This has the potential to completely open up art appreciation to all socioeconomic levels.
There are also major benefits for artists and their secondary markets. This gallery model means less reliance on the few existing major galleries, private sales channels and auction houses. If enough everyday people collectively fund the art they find meaningful, an exhibition can happen organically. For rising artists whose reputations can’t yet necessarily attract thousands of fractional investors, grassroots crowd-funding might eventually become a significant new income stream down the road.
For the public, fractional ownership allows affordable access to be involved with museum-quality art and see original works that they own, firsthand, through public exhibitions. As the Into Another World exhibition brochure states: “Your parent’s art world has changed, quickly and irrevocably – stratified wealth and advanced technology has supercharged the market, transforming mere enthusiasts into voracious collectors.”
Yet, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Galleries emphasizing collective ownership probably won’t completely supplant the existing gallery system – at least not anytime soon. Big-money patrons will still play a major role in the art economy. But just like indie music, film, and publishing, more choices and voices can emerge when there’s wider public access and funding. Crowdfunded galleries can thrive and operate in parallel, making the art landscape richer and less homogenous.