Reimagining Art Access and Ownership with Scott Lynn, the CEO and Founder of Masterworks
Disruption, iteration, creativity. These are equally the tools of the artist as the entrepreneur. Scott Lynn, CEO, and founder of Masterworks, shares how he and his company are wielding these tools to turn the 50-billion-dollar art industry on its head.
People argue that art can be many different things. Art is beauty, for its own sake. Art is commercial… or not. At its core, art is disruptive.
From Monet to Banksy, art challenges the status quo; it provokes people to feel and think. It involves activating the imagination. Andre Breton, one of the founders of surrealism wrote in his 1924 “Manifesto of Surrealism: quote “The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights.” unquote
Imagination corresponds to change. To change the world, artists first have to see it differently and then manifest that into their mediums. The same thing is true for entrepreneurs, and for companies. The key is training the mind to be comfortable with change.
Scott Lynn, the CEO and Founder of Masterworks, understands how to be comfortable with disruption. Lynn used the skills he fine tuned in his previous ventures to take on an antiquated market geared for the ultra-wealthy — the art world.
“I think what I’ve realized over the past several years is that execution is fine and it’s important,” he said. “But strategy and constant iteration is much more important.’
Masterworks is a company that acquires pieces of art, turns them into securities through public filings with the SEC, and then presents them as products to investors through its platform.
The beginning of Masterworks can be traced all the way back to Lynn’s teenage years, when he created an internet game before the internet was really a thing.
“I was maybe 16 years old living in my mom’s house,” he recalled. “And I went to this online advertising network, and I applied for $400,000 in ad credit to buy advertising and promote the game. And we knew that if we spent a dollar in advertising and we drove people to the game and they clicked around a bunch, they saw a bunch of advertising that we’d make a dollar fifty.”
Lynn was barely out of school when he was running a company with about 130 employees, and he was learning on the fly. The going however was not always easy, but the hard lesson lay the foundation for all his future entrepreneurial ventures including a really big online advertising company called Ad Knowledge. Starting something new became a theme for Lynne.
“So sometimes as an entrepreneur, you’re just kind of sitting around and you have this aha moment where you’re like, wow, there’s a one and a half trillion-dollar asset class that’s sitting out there, that’s outperformed public equities, that’s uncorrelated to other asset classes and nobody’s ever built an investment product for it,” he said. “We like to help people understand this by comparing it to venture and private equity, which everyone knows. We all know people running venture firms, but art is half that size and there’s nobody outside of us doing anything in it.”
Masterworks did something that nobody has done before by turning art into investment products, particularly for those who have been excluded from the art world in the past.
“The art market created this entire infrastructure of not being accessible,” Lynn said. “If you walk into a gallery in Chelsea, if you walk into a gallery uptown in New York city, most of the time people don’t even come up and talk to you. It’s just a weird industry that caters to the handful of ultra-wealthy people. And now we’re taking these paintings and these objects that a lot of people have never even seen before and just making it more accessible.”
Skilled artists often use whatever materials they have access to in order to make their art. Similarly, Masterworks used whatever resources it could in order to begin to evaluate and digitize the art market.
“When we started the business, the art market had never been digitized,” Lynn said. “So, what that means is we literally went out and we located and found and purchased paper auction catalogs, going back to the 1950s, along with the price lists that during those evening sales, they would distribute after the sale ended for how much things sold for.”
Let’s go back to the surrealist André Breton for a moment. The surrealists suggested changing reality in order to tap into the unconscious. This is where art and disruption begin. To be successful as an artist, an entrepreneur, or as a company, disruption must become a way of life.
Rather than only paint the first vision that came to mind, Lynn and his team questioned their and the industry’s assumptions. In doing so, Lynn has built a company that is, in many ways, its own evolving work of art.
To find out how Masterworks is reimagining art access and ownership and disrupting an antiquated market through iteration and how he banked on a British graffiti artist, tune into Business X factors.
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