Future Shares in the Artist as Commodity: A New “NeoGallerism”​ Finance Model for the Art World

Our mercurial times present an opportunity to rethink and retool the machinations of the art world, a world which places valuation on individual works of art further monetized by an artist’s influence. And while it is true that there are some deep-pocketed art collectors who buy art for aesthetic only or otherwise for conquest, we believe true art afficionados purchase art based on the love of an artist’s apt and unique ability to authentically communicate truths and ideas.

Human beings largely purchase art as investment to possess and exchange cultivated assets, but what we truly seek (and what is often painfully absent) is tangible relationship with an artist’s mind and hand, with their thinking and imagination. These are qualities that can drive true marketplace pricing when value shifts from product to producer.

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Art collectors or art buyers who cannot or do not wish to purchase art at an auction house like Christie’s or Sotheby’s on their own accord, are able to engage in a sort of collaborative crowdfunding or crowdsourcing by buying partial shares of an artwork through a consortium. These consortiums can be complicated landmines of legalities yet function effectively, (more notably tied to blockchain authentication). Several companies like MasterworksMaecenasARTSTAQ, and Monart currently offer the services.

Still, it is true in many sectors of business and finance that exclusivity drives value. Artworks are limited, they are of a certain quantity. This is why when the artist passes from this life, their works only increase in value if the artist achieved some measure of success while alive, or if the demand persists, or a new demand emerges. It is during the artist’s life that struggle, and trial, and pushing, and trying, are often intricately enmeshed in balancing the demands of producing art (while simultaneously marketing art). It is during life where the sweat equity of the living artist most requires the framework of known financial resources to make the unencumbered production of art a true feasibility.

Artists at all life stages need to be sustained. Especially when they are consistently creating works that push art forward, they are also functioning as a channel through which the commodity of art is manifested, and enlisting as un-enlisted workerbee to the future world of big art finance and investment. In share equity scenarios, what if the concentration from the artwork to the artist were flipped? What if we engaged in a type of finance and interest based matchmaking service, a type of “neo-gallerism” where an art investor, art collector, art buyer, or art organization purchases through a formal established registry, a “share” of a living artist by making a designated commitment to crowdfund that artist’s living expenses for life, mirroring the informal patron model of our beloved art forefathers?

In this new model, the art investor redistributes their wealth and takes on the high risk obligation for an artist (s)he believes has future growth potential. For example, $1,000 a month times 12 months is $12,000 a year for an artist at say, age 40 who lives until 85 (45 years), is a total initial investment of $540,000. The investment represents a type of living will between the artist and investor, both committed to the future valuation of the art after death. This “neogallerism” model has the added benefit of eliminating problems for families who are left with a body of work and who have no wherewithal in how to dispose or liquidate art.

When an artist passes, the works are then presented to the original investor(s) for first right of refusal. The investor can purchase back the artwork minus their original investment. If there is no desire to personally acquire the works, the body of art is then placed at traditional auction with a lien (or reserve) for the original investment amount of $540,000 times some rate of multiple (for example 1%) per year sustained. The investor not only has recieved first dibs, but also a return on investment of 45% at first offering (1% annually for the 45 years (s)he committed).

Perhaps the model could be futher adjusted for the scenarios of multiple investors or for the scenarios of second and third offerings at auction (resales). Maybe the annual percentage is contingent on a scale of how much is initially committed. Variations to the model can also be made on time invested or numbers of works created. The model functions as an adjustable model with exit clauses for all concerned. Registries can be developed for certain sectors (i.e., by medium, by genre, by age, etc.).

Shauna Lee Lange, Sacrosanct Gallery

The point is, the investor has engaged in a humanitarian cause, the cause of supporting another human being’s talent and can tangibly reaffirm their belief in one another. The artist has received the benefit of a known living income stream and is further incentivized to push their works forward while being freed to do so. The formal registry cultivates and develops lifelong relationships between art collector and artist(s) of interest, and thereby takes on the role of a gallerist as a “neogallerism”, albeit a gallerist who receives a long view commission on sales of works. The added beauty is everything can be handled digitally, yet the relationship is based in real life.

Artists must take back their power if their talent and their overall viability are to grow. As a culture, we must move to kickstarting individuals, especially creative talent. Yes, there is money in commodities and especially in futures, but is the thing of value the art or the artist, and when? We welcome your thoughts.

Shauna Lee Lange is a Florida-based art advisor, advocate, and gallerist for Sacrosanct Gallery, specializing in contemporary American art in the field of the natural world. She is the founder of the Florida chapter of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and regularly exhibits her Japanese-inspired pointillism in amorphous colorfield interdependencies. She watches “Shark Tank” in her spare time.