Yieldstreet's Rebecca Fine on Investing in Art
Have you ever dreamed of owning your own Banksy or Murakami? Now you can. Thanks to Athena Art Finance x Yieldstreet’s managing director and head of art investments, Rebecca Fine, both investors and art collectors alike now have the chance to own paintings that currently hang in museums across the country. Worth recently sat down with Rebecca Fine to discuss Athena x Yieldstreet’s groundbreaking art investment platform, the burgeoning world of art finance and the captivating trajectory of her own career.
“I come from a family of matrilineal, third-generation women artists and gallerists,” explained Rebecca. Growing up with a mother who is a practicing sculptor, she was immersed in art from an early age. Her route to her current position in the art world, however, was far from straightforward. After studying art history at Columbia University, Rebecca decided to take the LSAT on a whim and soon after matriculated at the NYU School of Law (she transferred back to Columbia to complete her J.D.).
While law school seemed like a far cry from her enduring interest in the art community, it gave Rebecca the chance to uncover her previously unexplored passion for advocacy. Under the mentorship of Jane Ginsburg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s daughter, she delved deep into the fascinating topic of droit moral, the moral rights of artists and the nitty gritty of copyright law. After doing both trial and antitrust work, Rebecca launched herself into the art finance sphere while a partner at a boutique firm, representing art galleries, dealers, private collectors and family offices. In 2015, she became general counsel for the Athena Art Finance Corporation. Acquired by Yieldstreet in 2019, Athena and its art investment platform lies at the intersection of Rebecca’s passions for art and advocacy.
At the time of Athena’s conception in 2015, there were hardly any groups or funds entirely dedicated to art as an asset class. “The idea was for us to create a highly institutional business that was focused on the underwriting of the artwork in addition to understanding the complexity of lending against art,” explained Rebecca. “We developed a specialized, proprietary data analytics platform to inform our decisions and felt that we had real conviction in our understanding of the valuation models.” Unlike competitors such as Masterworks—another art platform founded in 2017—that take a fractional approach to investing in a single work, Athena x Yieldstreet puts together a collection of diverse paintings in a certain genre to create an equity fund. Investors then commit to the fund for five years with the option to take up to two, one-year extensions. Though investment in a fund like Yieldstreet’s requires patience, investors find themselves handsomely rewarded. According to the Artprice100 Index, art has outperformed the S&P 500, returning over 360 percent in the past 20 years.
A distinguishing feature of the art investment platform is the diversity emphasized in each fund. One of Yieldstreet’s recent Art Equity Funds focused on the Harlem Renaissance, featuring artists such as Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence and Alice Neel; Rebecca’s great aunt, the first female gallerist in New York City, was also the first person to give Alice Neel a solo exhibition in 1944. “All of our funds are diversified,” said Rebecca. “We’re providing investors an opportunity to invest in a collection of artworks created by female artists, artists of color, and that’s a crucial feature of our funds. It’s very different from the way some of our competitors are working at this point.”
Helping bring awareness to artists of large cultural and historical significance is an integral tenant of Yieldstreet’s mission. Rebecca explained this focus, saying, “these artists who have been overlooked due to their race and gender are also artists who are especially well positioned to experience significant value increase.” Not only do the funds acquaint investors with a new, profitable set of hard assets, but they also give investors the opportunity to learn about each work and its history through tailored educational programming and investor engagement opportunities. “I consider our educational work around this asset class to be another really significant and distinguishing feature of our platform,” she said.
In addition to supporting established artists through their Art Equity Funds, Athena x Yieldstreet is also the sponsor of a number of prizes and awards, as well as exhibitions for emerging artists. In February, the art platform collaborated with Frieze Los Angeles for their first in-person show after the pandemic, celebrating the work of Brooklyn-based artist Saya Woolfalk. The event connected investors and collectors directly with the artist herself, and attendees of the event each had the unusual opportunity to take home a stunning piece of her work. “We find that there’s a real desire to use the art platform and Yieldstreet as a stepping stone for investors to participate in the art world in a more meaningful way,” said Rebecca.
Yieldstreet’s investors profit from much more than just the gains from each fund; they enrich their lives. Coming from a family of artists and after studying art history, Rebecca understands better than anyone art’s profound influence. As a lawyer, she is specially situated to understand the crucial support that art financing offers to all parties: artists, galleries, collectors and investors. “I think of us all as custodians of this artwork for a time,” said Rebecca, “and I feel like, as custodians, it’s our job to make that time meaningful and to allow these works to live and breathe. It’s this kind of engagement that really has the potential to change people’s lives.”