Sotheby’s Enters NFT Digital Art Market, Considers Broader Cryptocurrency Options
Less than a week after Christie’s sold a digital collage to an investor who paid $69 million in cryptocurrency, rival auction house Sotheby’s said it was considering an option to eventually let bidders use digital currencies to pay for physical artworks—from prints to Pablo Picassos—as well as digital works.
Sotheby’s Chief Executive Officer Charles Stewart said Tuesday that the house was looking into ways to allow collectors to pay—and potentially get paid—with cryptocurrency for digital works as well as physical masterpieces, which would be a first for a blue-chip auction house. Mr. Stewart said the house isn’t ready to pull the trigger on any concrete plans, but that it is determined to pave the way for a recent influx of “engaged and affluent” cryptocurrency investors to spend on traditional trophies in a way that wouldn’t have been possible previously.
“Right now, there’s a desire to let people pay for digital art with cryptocurrency, so why not let them pay for physical art with crypto?” Mr. Stewart said. “Maybe we accept crypto for paintings and then pay the consignors in cash, or maybe sellers will want the cryptocurrency as well. That’s all coming, if managed well.”
His comments came after Christie’s record-smashing sale last week of a digital work, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” by artist Mike Winkelmann, who goes by Beeple. Bidding for that work started at $100 but later soared to $69 million, making him the third-priciest living artist.
A move to accept cryptocurrency for physical works could potentially fuel sales of everything from Chinese porcelain to Christo drawings if it prompts cryptocurrency millionaires to start bidding on traditional art—something they aren’t known for doing en masse yet. Their added presence could prove a boon to the high-end art market, which leaned heavily on millennials to boost slumping sales last year and has struggled lately to drum up fresh auction theater amid the global pandemic.
Initially, Sotheby’s plans to follow Christie’s lead some time next month by offering sales of digital artworks that, like Beeple’s piece, carry nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. These tokens serve as digital certificates of authenticity and have become all the rage lately in the worlds of art, sports and fashion. Sotheby’s first NFT artist will be a popular digital designer and mysterious artist who goes by the name of Pak, the house said.
Pak, who like some digital artists goes by a pseudonym and maintains a cryptic persona, has in the past gone by the name of Murat Pak. On Tuesday, the artist declined through a Sotheby’s spokesman to confirm any biographical details, other than to prefer the pronouns “they/them” be used rather than he or she. It remains unclear if Pak represents an individual or a group of designers, though.
Even so, Pak is widely known in digital design circles for creating sleek, wryly conceptual artworks that explore ideas about technology and ownership. In January, Pak sold a series of identical-looking NFT works that each carried different titles. The series was called “The Title.” Pak is also credited with creating the Archillect, an artificial-intelligence algorithm that scrolls social-media channels and posts images it deems to be popular, creating a feed that brims with images of everything from abstract shapes and memes to models posing in slinky swimsuits.
Pak’s tokenized works for Sotheby’s will include one-off pieces and others that will be offered as open-ended editions, the house said. Details on the works’ content and pricing haven’t been divulged.
Mr. Stewart said a few other fine-print details of the Pak deal are still undisclosed, including whether the house itself will accept its commission in cryptocurrency, as Christie’s did with Beeple. It will accept cryptocurrency for the work’s hammer price. Christie’s said it partnered with Gemini, a cryptocurrency wallet provider that is licensed by the New York State Department of Financial Services.
Mr. Stewart said the house has been intrigued by Pak’s work for months now—as well as the growing number of digital art collectors with cryptocurrency fortunes who make up some of Pak’s biggest fans. “It’s a new aesthetic,” he said of NFT art, “and it’s bigger audience than you think.”
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