Can Andy Warhol Beat the S&P 500?

Suppose we want to understand how a hypothetical investment in an Andy Warhol painting would have fared against the two most common types of investments: diversified stocks and government bonds.

Masha Golovina, our Director of Market Analysis, put together some interesting data to help us answer this question. The chart below tracks the value of a $100 investment over the last twenty years in a Warhol Marilyn Reversal Series painting versus the S&P 500 with dividend reinvestment and 10-Year US Treasury Bonds (see footnotes).


An astounding difference in financial outcomes.

What the data shows is not just that an investment in Warhol fared better than either of the traditional asset classes, but the astounding magnitude by which it outpaced returns in the financial markets over the last ten years. As a result, if you had invested $100 in a Marilyn Reversal twenty years ago, it would be worth over $750 today, while an analogous investment in the US stock or bond market comes to less than half that number.


Historical barriers to investing in fine art.

The first work from the Marilyn Reversal Series was sold at auction in 1990, just three years after the death of Andy Warhol. Access to the art world aside, at the time, the greatest barrier to investment for the average person that wanted to do so through traditional means, was that they would have had to purchase a painting from the series outright. In the late 1990s, the cost to do so would have been somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000, a prohibitive amount of money for the average American. To put this into perspective: the median home value at that time was roughly $120,000.

Additional Data on the Marilyn Reversal Series:

    • Works sold at public auction 1990 to present: 43
    • Average price in 2000: $121,500
    • Average price in 2010: $962,500
  • Price achieved in most recent auction sale: $1,840,815 in May 2018


a. The Reversal Series provides us with a valuable source of information; in a market where most unique assets are traded infrequently, the series supplies us with additional sales data on works that have incredibly similar aesthetic properties and cultural significance, and can therefore, be thought of as close, albeit imperfect, substitutes. Sales data for works from the series can be found on auction house websites.

b. Return on stocks includes both price appreciation and dividends and can be found here:

c. 10-year constant maturity US Treasury bond returns include coupon and price appreciation. Raw data for US treasury bond returns is obtained from the Federal Reserve database in St. Louis (FRED)