Rebecca Fine is the leader of Yieldstreet’s Art Platform, which includes Athena Art Finance and Yieldstreet’s newest asset class, Art Equity. She has served on the leadership team of Athena since its founding by The Carlyle Group in 2015. Rebecca has had a remarkable track record of success as a changemaker in many evolving roles, both before and after joining Yieldstreet in 2019. Read about her career and what she sees looking forward in this short profile.
How did you get started in the art finance space?
I always wanted to work in the art world, it just took a circuitous career path and many years to get there. I was an art history major at Columbia, with a plan to go for a PhD in art history. Lawyering was something of a whim, in what can only be described as a liberal arts moment, I figured it would be interesting to spend three years studying something I knew nothing about. And it turned out to be more than just interesting. At the time, I knew very little about what it would mean to practice law, but I discovered that I loved trial work, which broadly is all about advocacy and, for me, passion.
Jane Ginsburg — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s daughter — was my professor at Columbia Law School. She taught me copyright law and Droit Moral, which is the French legal principle that artists control the eventual fate of their works. At the time, however, there was no real professional path in art law, which was in its infancy as a practice area. So instead, I began my legal career at Big Law and had a terrific experience as a junior litigation associate in Boston at Hale and Dorr (now Wilmer Hale) learning how to try cases. Then I came back to New York City where I had the opportunity to work on some really exciting cases for Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
My future pivoted to the art world in the early 2000s, although I didn’t realize it until later. I joined the boutique law firm Schinder Cohen & Hochman, expecting to focus on complex cross border litigations. I’m not sure my partners even knew of my interest in art law, but that all came out after I was asked to help out on a new case involving a world-renowned international gallery – I got the role on that trial team because they needed a French speaker. From that lucky first case assignment, we grew an outstanding art law practice, serving and protecting some of the most important and influential galleries, art owning families, museums, foundations, and of course, artists. We handled transactional work for our art market clients as well as litigations involving disputed attributions, authenticity, title, restitution, cultural repatriation, etc.
How did you become associated with Athena and then Yieldstreet?
I was on trial in Paris in 2015 when an executive search firm called about a startup art finance company that the Carlyle Group was funding. They were looking for a general counsel. The opportunity to do something truly new and entrepreneurial was just too tantalizing for me to pass up. So, I left my legal practice and joined Athena Art Finance in August of 2015. Right out of the gate, the job was a fascinating mix of art, finance and law. We developed our loan underwriting and due diligence strategies, which boil down to a great deal of research to understand an artwork’s eligibility as potential loan collateral – because a lender has to have real certainty about the authenticity, ownership, title and provenance, etc. to understand its relative value. Since we’re lending against future saleability in a sense, we have to understand the liquidity of the market for the artwork – how deep or shallow the bidder pool would be at an auction – and many other considerations that go into making a loan that is backed exclusively by artworks. So, we developed a robust proprietary data analytics platform that has always informed our underwriting process and our decision making.
In 2019, Yieldstreet acquired Athena to expand its alternative asset class verticals to art. Michael and Milind were really prescient about the demand for investment offerings linked to diversified pools of Athena’s art loans. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to offer our investors yet another art investment vertical with the Art Equity Funds that we launched recently.
Tell us how Yieldstreet’s Art Platform evolved into Art Equity?
Launching Art Equity was just organic, almost obvious. There is always tremendous demand from our investors for the art backed loan offerings so we saw an opportunity to do something that would excite those investors with a new, innovative product.
Let me step back. Many Yieldstreet investors bring curiosity about art into their search for diversification of their financial portfolio. But they aren’t necessarily people who feel comfortable walking into a gallery prepared or informed enough to make a purchase. Unlike most markets, which are anonymous, if I have the money to buy a diamond, I get the diamond. But in the art market, particularly in the primary markets, most people cannot get access – or at least cannot get it with confidence that they are making a smart move.
We knew we could leverage our expertise, experience, track record, and our access to dealers, galleries and art advisors to give our investors the opportunity to make a $20,000 investment and get an ownership interest in a $20 million collection of magnificent works of art.
But what’s really exciting to me about Yieldstreet’s Art Platform is that it will give investors exposure to art through events with art dealers, art advisors, auction house specialists and the artists themselves. By providing engaging educational content, and unique access to art market information and important artists, Yieldstreet investors will gain an insider’s perspective on the market, which we hope will inspire them to dive deeper and eventually, to invest in physical art themselves. And in the equity funds, we get to bring our values and experience working with hundreds of artists whose works we have tracked as lenders, into our composition and curation of the funds, while giving us an opportunity to raise profiles that deserve to be elevated.
How is Yieldstreet’s mission (to democratize access to alternative investments) reflected in the Art Platform?
At its core, Yieldstreet is all about diversity, diversification, accessibility and inclusion. The Art Platform is a wonderful way to demonstrate that these aren’t just characteristics of a strong investment portfolio, they’re also the right thing to do. So, we are committed to highlighting diverse groups of artists in our funds. The funds will generally include blue chip, mid-career and some emerging artists. This is an exciting time because a number of artists who had been marginalized are finally being recognized for their important contributions. Many incredible female artists and artists of color have worked in relative obscurity, and we will be including all kinds of amazing artists, no modifying adjective necessary.
We want investors to have real exposure to great artists, to immersive experiences, and to really get their toes wet so that they can explore their curiosities about art and become informed investors and appreciators of art.
So were you always interested in art?
Always. I grew up in a family of artists — my mother is a sculptor, my sister is a painter, one brother is a painter, and my other brother is a filmmaker. Our great aunt, Rose Fried, was actually the first female gallery owner in New York City and she gave Alice Neel her first solo exhibition in 1944.
Alice Neel painted portraits of my aunt and my mother’s first cousin. Right now, there’s an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art called “Discovering Rose Fried’s Nephew”. His name was Roger Jacoby, and he was an avant garde filmmaker, and Ondine’s (Andy Warhol’s Muse) life partner. So, like many of us, my deep connection with the art world came long before I managed to find a professional home in our community.
How has that perspective from the art world affected your work?
Every day I’m grateful for the perspective that has come from the long path that brought me to Athena. Growing up in a family of working artists made me aware of their very real challenges and the important responsibilities that gallerists, museums, curators and collectors have to the artists, and to the wider public.
Let me be specific and direct. Artists must make art, it’s a compulsion for most artists, and certainly the inspired ones. I get that, and also get that the artist’s desire to share their art – to connect with an audience, achieving a sense of place and recognition – can be very, very difficult. Just navigating the art world and yes, paying the bills while making art, has left most artists to struggle in relative obscurity.
Yieldstreet’s Art Platform of course cannot fix the fundamental inequities at the intersection of art and business. But we can make a difference, which is why we do not limit ourselves to blue chip artists who are already enjoying immense success (or more likely never did get to enjoy it during their lifetimes). We are also committed to highlighting the truly important artistic, historical, cultural and sociopolitical contributions of artists who have been largely overlooked and underappreciated. We are especially focused on those artists who now have important galleries behind them and therefore strong primary markets, artists whose works are already hanging in important museum collections but are still considered emerging or mid-career artists. We are also targeting artists in all categories whose markets we have real conviction will continue to grow.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m a mother of three amazing kids; two are graduating from college, and one is in fifth grade. I love being a mom. I’m also very close to my extended family. My parents live in my building and so does my sister-in-law (who is an actor). My dad is a scientist who loves his work and is still going to his lab and doing research at 83. He’s a real inspiration to me. I love to travel whenever I can and to spend time looking at art and going to exhibitions.
What’s something in your career you’ve been particularly proud of?
I’m just so happy, more gratified than proud, to find a professional home in the art world. I have found a way to merge my love of art, law and entrepreneurship. There aren’t too many art history majors who get to represent Richard Branson in antitrust cases, and then fortunate enough to pivot to a job where they can make a difference at a place like Yieldstreet x Athena.
What exhibitions have you enjoyed recently, or are looking forward to seeing?
I absolutely loved the Alice Neel exhibition at the Met. Also, I was at the Shed last weekend and really enjoyed the Fragile Future exhibit, curated by the experience company, Superblue. I am looking for ways for Yieldstreet to help sponsor these kinds of experiential, interactive art exhibitions which are very thought provoking and engage a broad audience. I think putting Yieldstreet investors in those types of spaces would be terrific, and we know that they want to learn more about art and connect with our art community – because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in the market for an investment opportunity that is all about the art.
Yieldstreet provides access to alternative investments previously reserved only for institutions and the ultra-wealthy. Our mission is to help millions of people generate $3 billion of income outside the traditional public markets by 2025. We are committed to making financial products more inclusive by creating a modern investment portfolio.